Giant penguin fossils discovered in southern Chile

Discoveries prove existence of a huge species of penguin around 40 million years ago and provide clues to the region’s tectonic history.

While today’s fish only have to watch out for four diminutive species of predatory penguin in Chilean territory, their ancestors millions of years ago had to contend with something much more terrifying: Giant penguins!

A recent discovery by a paleontology team from Universidad de Chile and the Museo Nacional de Historía Natural (MNHN) found fossils of a penguin species that would dwarf its modern-day relatives.

The bones discovered show the existence of penguins measuring around 5.6 ft tall, while today’s biggest species — Emperors, found in Antarctica — are usually 3.5 ft and never more than 4 ft.

Found around seven miles from Puerto Natales  — the pretty seaside Patagonian town best known as a jumping off point for the famous Torres del Paine National Park — the fossils were in the Sierra Dorotea mountains. The ancient specimens date back to the Eocene era, 40 million years ago, at the time of the beginning of a new ice age.

While giant penguin fossils were also discovered in 2012, this latest find represents a distinct, albeit related, species.

The experts behind the find are three years into a project to investigate the geological and paleontological connection between the Magallanes region and the Antarctic continent.

Chilean paleontologist Roberto Yury was part of the team which made this larger-than-life discovery. He described the appearance of this huge bird adding that this discovery helps to build the connection between South America and the white continent.

“They are similar to the penguins we know nowadays, in the sense that they were black and white and ate fish,” Yury told Las Últimas Noticias. “They would have had the elongated beak that we know see in the Emperor Penguin, a trait which shows the relationship between the two species.”

This “mega-penguin” was not the only intriguing ancient discovery to be unearthed in the area.  Experts also found fossils of a Mosasaurus — a seven meter-long seafaring lizard which bears a striking resemblance to the comodo dragon, the venomous and viscous bond villain of the animal kingdom. Other discoveries included prehistoric sharks and turtles.