When I was growing up television and movies taught me a lot about school field trips. Mainly that they never went smoothly. At a museum, an entire dinosaur skeleton was sure to fall down when you gently bumped into it. Any journey to the big city meant a student getting lost on a train. And no matter where you went, somebody was getting their head stuck in something. (And it would only be freed in a hilarious manner.) But not only did pop culture steer me wrong about the dangers of field trips, it missed the part where something truly amazing can happen during them. Like how students in New Zealand found a fossil for an entirely new species of giant penguins.
The kids responsible for the discovery (which we first learned about at
The large penguin is like that of the Kairuku giant penguins. Only with much longer legs. That’s where it gets its name Kairuku waewaeroa. It means “long legs.” And those stretched-out limbs made this one big bird. A bird you would not want to meet in a dark alley. This giant penguin might have stood as tall as 1.4-meters. That’s nearly four feet, six inches.
New pub: new species of giant penguin, Kairuku waewaeroa, from the early Oligocene (34-28 Ma) of New Zealand (North Island, Waikato dist.) - long legs for an early penguin; body length of 1.6 meters. Congrats to S. Giovanardi, @KsepkaLab & @NZfauna! https://t.co/jb1JwPNbFk pic.twitter.com/OmJEHdenkd— Robert Boessenecker, Doctor of Whaleontology™️ (@CoastalPaleo) September 16, 2021
“It’s sort of surreal to know that a discovery we made as kids so many years ago is contributing to academia today,” said Steffan Safey in a statement. He was 13 when his school club found the fossils. “And it’s a new species, even! The existence of giant penguins in New Zealand is scarcely known, so it’s really great to know that the community is continuing to study and learn more about them. Clearly, the day spent cutting it out of the sandstone was well spent!”
Clearly indeed! But just in case anyone goes to the Waikato Museum to see the students’ find be careful around those bones. I now know school field trips can be incredible. But a lifetime of worry makes me think you could easily knock them over.