“We propose that New Zealand is likely to be where the earliest ancestor to all crested penguins lived, and where the ancestor of all penguins lived,” Thomas said.
Ancient penguins roamed the lost continent of Zealandia
E. atatu lived in New Zealand tens of millions of years after the rest of Zealandia sank. But the researchers think its ancestor evolved about 60 million years ago, suggesting that penguins likely once wandered the continent while the rest of its surface lay above sea level.
These ancient penguins may have been gigantic. In 2017, researchers found that prehistoric “mega-penguins” stood 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 220 pounds.
The majority of Zealandia, which is about half the size of Australia, now sits 3,500 feet (1,066 metres) under the sea. In addition to mega-penguins, the continent was once likely home to dinosaurs and lush rainforest.