Subfossil crested penguin bones from the Chatham Islands were first recognised as being from a distinct endemic species by Phil Millener and Alan Tennyson in 1994. Millener (1999) undertook morphological comparisons with bones of other penguin species to further demonstrate this, and the distinction was subsequently supported by mitochondrial DNA sequencing in 2019. Phylogenetic analyses indicate that the Chatham Island crested penguin diverged from a common ancestor with the erect-crested penguin between 2.5 and 1.1 million years ago, after the emergence of the Chatham Islands (~ 3 million years ago).
The species is named in honour of John Warham (1919-2010) who carried out pioneering studies on crested penguins.
The Chatham Islands crested penguin was among the largest of the crested penguins, with the largest specimens being comparable in size to the royal penguin. The mandible of the Chatham Island crested penguin was relatively shallow in depth compared to other crested penguins.
Distribution and habitat
The Chatham Island crested penguin is known from bones collected from coastal sand dunes and archaeological sites on the Chatham Islands (including Chatham, Pitt and Mangere Islands), and is likely to have been widespread throughout the archipelago. DNA sequencing has identified a few bones of the Chatham Island crested penguin from middens on the east coast of mainland New Zealand, indicating that its at-sea range extended west of the Chatham Islands.
Threats and conservation
The occurrence of Chatham Island crested penguin bones in archaeological middens shows that it was hunted and consumed by humans. As one of the largest endemic birds on the Chatham Islands, it would likely have provided a valuable food resource for the first settlers, leading to its ultimate extinction. It has the dubious distinction of being the only penguin species known to have become extinct because of human activity.
Cole, T.L.; Ksepka, D.T.; Mitchell, K.J.; Tennyson, A.J.D.; Thomas, D.B.; Pan, H.; Zhang, G.; Rawlence, N.J.; Wood, J.R.; Bover, P.; Bouzat, J.L.; Cooper, A.; Fiddaman, S.; Hart, T.; Miller, G.; Ryan, P.G.; Shepherd, L.D.; Wilmshurst, J.M.; Waters, J.M. 2019. Mitogenomes uncover extinct penguin taxa and reveal island formation as a key driver of speciation. Molecular Biology and Evolution 36: 784–797.
Cole, T.L.; Rawlence, N.J.; Dussex, N.; Ellenberg, U.; Houston, D.M.; Mattern, T.; Miskelly, C.M.; Morrison, K.W.; Scofield, R.P.; Tennyson, A.J.D.; Thompson, D.R.; Wood, J.R.; Waters, J.M. 2019. Ancient DNA of crested penguins: testing for temporal genetic shifts in the world’s most diverse penguin clade. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 131: 72-79.
Millener, P.R. 1999. The history of the Chatham Islands’ bird fauna of the last 7000 years – a chronicle of change and extinction. Pp 85-109 in Olson, S.L. (ed.) Avian paleontology at the close of the 20th century, Proceedings of the 4th International meeting of the Society of Avian Paleontology and Evolution. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Tennyson, A.J.D.; Millener, P.R. 1994. Bird extinctions and fossil bones from Mangere Island, Chatham Islands. Notornis 41 supplement: 165–178.
Cole, T.L. 2019 [updated 2022]. Chatham Island crested penguin. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz
Chatham Island crested penguin
- Breeding season
- Egg laying dates