Unknown extinct yellow-eyed penguin identified in NZ
The discovery of a previously unknown and now extinct New Zealand penguin could be just one of many breakthroughs as scientists probe the secrets of ancient DNA. A study led by Otago University researchers set out to look at changes in the yellow-eyed penguin population after humans settled in New Zealand.
But DNA analysis of old bones discovered evidence of a completely new penguin species, now dubbed the Waitaha the Maori word for Canterbury penguin. The study found the yellow-eyed penguin was a recent immigrant to New Zealand, arriving just 500 years ago. "This sort of discovery is going to become more and more common as people look at ancient DNA," said Otago University zoologist Dr Phil Seddon. The yellow-eyed penguin filled a niche after the Waitaha became extinct following the arrival of Polynesian settlers between 1300 and 1500 AD. Many bones were found at mitten sites historic rubbish dumps proving the penguins were a popular meal. Seddon said the early yellow-eyed penguin population escaped the same fate because of a unique set of circumstances, including a shift away from the coast by humans, and a growing awareness of the need to preserve natural resources. "You don't hear about yellow-eyed penguins in Maori culture the same way that you do about huia and kiwi for example, so they may have kept a low profile." Otago University zoologist Dr Jon Waters said the research highlighted the fact there was still a lot to learn about New Zealand's natural history. "Who knows what other fascinating stories might have been overlooked?" The Waitaha penguin is believed to have been closely related to the yellow-eyed penguin, but smaller. It was named after the Waitaha iwi, an early South Island people, lost through marriage and conquest. "It seemed like a good fit," Waters said. Bones from Waitaha penguins were found from Nelson to Southland. Otago Zoology PhD student Sanne Boessenkool said yellow-eyed penguins were now thought to have arrived here from the sub-Antarctic Auckland and Campbell Islands. The yellow-eyed penguin, or hoiho, is one of the world's rarest penguin species, with a population of about 7000 in New Zealand. It graces our 5 NZD notes. The findings of the team, which included representatives from Adelaide University and Canterbury Museum, were published in the international journal Proceedings of the Royal Society.