It was last year that the bone finds were made on the southern island, but it is only now that researchers at the Canterbury Museum in New Zealand have analyzed the bones. The fossil has been found to be the remains of a huge penguin species that lived in the area during the Paleocene era, according to AFP - Crossvallia waiparensis.

The giant penguin could weigh up to 80 kilos, which is more than twice the emperor penguin - which is the largest penguin available today.

"The find is important because this breed is similar to another find from another giant penguin found in Antarctica in 2000. It helps to show a connection between New Zealand and Antarctica during this era," says Paul Scofield, curator at the Canterbury Museum, to AP.

He is also co-author of the article on the find published in Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology.

"Confirm our theory"

Paul Scofield says that after dinosaurs, marine reptiles and giant fish died out, penguins could grow in size. The giant penguin now discovered is believed to have been one of several species of giant penguins that thrived.

- This finding again confirms our theory that penguins were very large early in their development, says researcher Vanesa de Pietri at the Canterbury Museum to AFP.

It is not yet clear why the winged giants eventually, even they, died out. According to the researchers, this may be due to the emergence of large, sea-going competitors such as tooth whales and seals.

Paul Scofield, curator at the Canterbury Museum, compares the found leg with the same leg from a stuffed emperor penguin - the largest living penguin species today. Photo: Mark Baker / AP / TT

More prehistoric animals

The finds follow a long tradition of fossil remains from very large prehistoric birds in New Zealand.

Last week, the Canterbury Museum announced that it had found bones from a giant parrot, close to a meter long and around 19 million years old. Earlier finds have revealed the existence of a four-meter-high moa bird and an eagle with a wingspan of three meters, reports AFP.