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Giant fossil penguin features on coin

Wednesday, 6 August 2014 8:08am

Ewan Fordyce with coin image
Professor Ewan Fordyce proudly holds the 2014 collectable coin with his discovery – a Kairuku penguin – depicted on it. Photo: Sharron Bennett.

In what is thought to be a first for an Otago researcher, Geology’s Professor Ewan Fordyce has had one of his research findings emblazoned on a collectable coin issued recently by New Zealand Post.

A Kairuku penguin is depicted on the 2014 New Zealand Annual Coin. The extinct species of giant penguin was named by Professor Fordyce and a team working from the Department of Geology in 2012.

Professor Fordyce says he was “very delighted” when contacted by New Zealand Post earlier this year with the proposal and request to use the image of a Kairuku on the coin.

"It's nice to see Otago research recognised in this way."

“It's nice to see Otago research recognised in this way. Actually, the fossils can be a bit personal, if they are unusual like the Kairuku penguins (in this case, well preserved and big), and if we can remember the original discovery.”

The first discovery of Kairuku remains involved 27-million-year-old fossilised bones spotted “by chance” by Professor Fordyce in 1977. An account of the fossil’s discovery and significance can be found here.

He plans to keep his own copy of the coin at hand, bringing it out now and then to share with those who might really appreciate it from a scientific perspective – the occasional visiting paleospheniscologist (fossil penguin researcher).

Just 1500 of the commemorative coins were minted in the series produced annually by New Zealand Post to highlight endangered native species.

About Kairuku penguins:

The giant penguins are taller than any species of penguin known to have lived in New Zealand. They are thought to have lived about 27 million years ago and probably became extinct somewhere between 24 and 25 million years ago.

These penguins were much taller and heavier than their modern counterparts. When standing, they were 1.3 metres tall and stretched out to an impressive 1.5 metres when swimming. Their weight is estimated to have been at least 60 kilograms. The Kairuku has unusual proportions, with a long beak, long flippers, a slender body and short, thick legs and feet compared with modern penguins. This body type and beak suggest that they were divers that speared or snapped at their food.