Giant penguin in mint condition

Prof Ewan Fordyce holds a 2014 collectable coin featuring the extinct giant Kairuku penguin....
Prof Ewan Fordyce holds a 2014 collectable coin featuring the extinct giant Kairuku penguin. Photo by Sharron Bennett.

An extinct giant penguin species discovered by University of Otago geologist Prof Ewan Fordyce has been emblazoned on a collectable coin recently issued by New Zealand Post.

It is believed to be the first time the research findings of an Otago University academic have been featured in this way.

The Kairuku penguin depicted on the coin was named by Prof Fordyce and a team working from the university's geology department in 2012.

It was ''very thrilling'' to have the image of a Kairuku featured on the 2014 New Zealand Annual Coin.

''It's nice to see Otago research recognised in this way,'' he said.

The research, which led to the naming of the previously-unknown species, was based on several fossils found in South Canterbury and in North Otago.

The first discovery of Kairuku remains involved 27-million-year-old fossilised bones spotted ''by chance'' by Prof Fordyce in 1977.

And the collectable coin further highlighted the growing reputation of North Otago and South Canterbury as an internationally significant ''hot spot'' for the discovery of ancient marine fossils, he said.

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

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

The Kairuku giant penguins were taller than any other species of penguin known to have lived in New Zealand, standing about 1.3m tall, and weighing at least 60kg.

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