Nearly 70% of the earth's surface is covered in water. Of the 9,500 species of birds living today, only 3% are seabirds (Lynch, 1997). For centuries, researchers have studied one of the most amazing species of birds, the penguin. Penguins have captivated scientist all around the globe, leaving them with more questions than they started with. Penguins have been able to adapt and survive the harshest living environments of any wildlife species. They are truly a remarkable creature.
The origin of the word "penguin" is uncertain. There are several theories of how the word was derived and given to the magnificent creature we know as the penguin. Some theorize that the word is in reference to the amount of fat (penguigo in Spanish and pinguis in Latin) penguins posses. Others claim it is from two Welsh words meaning "white head". Yet, the most agreed upon explanation is that "penguin" was used as a name for the great auk, which is now extinct. The auk resembles the modern-day penguin.
It is believed, that the prehistoric penguins began disappearing when the number of prehistoric seals and small whales started increasing in the oceans. Penguins may have become prey to the seals and whales, but it is also theorized that all three animals competed for the same food sources. More than likely, both factors contributed to the extinction of these ancient penguins.
Scientist recognize 32 species of extinct penguins. Thus far, the discovery of all penguin fossil fragments have been limited to the Southern Hemisphere. The first penguin fossil fragments were discovered in New Zealand in the mid-1800s. Only a few bone fragments have been found over the years. Scientist estimate that prehistoric penguins stood at least four feet tall, and some as tall as 5.9 feet. The weight of these penguins are estimated to be between 198 to 298 pounds. Discoveries have proved that penguins had spread to South America and were beginning to expand into Atlantic waters.
Penguins are in Class Aves, which includes all birds. All penguins, living and extinct are included in the Order Sphenisciformes. There is only one Family classification in the Order Sphenisciformes, and that is Spheniscidai, which includes all penguins, living and extinct.