2014 New Zealand Annual Coin: Kairuku
Pay tribute to one of New Zealand’s most unique creatures known as the Kairuku with this special coin issue - a giant penguin that once roamed Aotearoa.
New Zealand and its precursor Zealandia have been home to some amazing and bizarre creatures, of which some sadly are now extinct. One of these unique creatures is the Kairuku - a giant penguin that once roamed Aotearoa.
This distinctive penguin is the subject of the 2014 New Zealand Annual Coin - the first in a new series of coins paying tribute to extinct species of New Zealand.
Fossils of Kairuku waitaki and Kairuku grebneffi were discovered by Professor Ewan Fordyce of the University of Otago, with the most recent find taking place in 2011 on a cliff near Waimate, South Canterbury. The bones of the penguins have only recently been reconstructed - shedding new light on these prehistoric animals.
The giant penguins, which scientists have dubbed Kairuku, are taller than any species of penguin known to have lived in New Zealand. They’re thought to have lived about 27 million years ago and probably became extinct somewhere between 24 and 25 million years ago.
These two ‘giant’ penguins were not only much taller than their modern counterparts, but much heavier as well. When standing, these penguins were 1.3 meters tall and an impressive 1.5 meters tall when swimming, a full 30 centimeters taller than the closest living equivalent, the emperor penguin. Scientists estimate their weight to have been at least 60 kilograms, 50 percent heavier than the emperor penguin. 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.
New Zealand and its precursor Zealandia had the ideal environments for keeping marine fossils in excellent condition for discovery. The Southern Ocean bordered Zealandia; the same ocean that circles Antarctica. For millions of years, these penguins found Zealandia a suitable land for rookeries (breeding grounds). These reasons, plus the fact that New Zealand has risen out of the ocean in such a way that the sedimentary rock that houses these fossils is accessible by land, enables scientists like Professor Fordyce to continue to discover the extinct species that once roamed New Zealand.