Museum Victoria has announced the discovery of pelagornis, a huge extinct bird with bony teeth that had previously been found on every continent apart from Australia.
The five-million-year-old bone discovered from a sandstone boulder on the beach at Beaumaris, about 20km southeast of Melbourne, is the first pelagornis fossil found in Australia.
Senior curator of vertebrate palaeontology, Dr Erich Fitzgerald, said the bone belonged to the same species of pelagornis previously found in France, Morocco and Chile.
“Our pelagornis bone is similar in size to that of the pelagornis from Chile, which had a wingspan of at least five metres,” News.com.au quoted him as saying.
“That is twice the size of the largest albatross alive today. So, we now know that there were once birds with teeth soaring over coastal Victoria with a wingspan greater than the length of a Toyota LandCruiser,” he added.
Dr Fitzgerald said the bone was from the lower half of one of the leg bones, “a tibiotarsus, which corresponds to the shin and ankle in humans”.
The pelagornis bone has a distinctive anatomy that Dr Fitzgerald and fellow bird experts Dr Trevor Worthy, from the University of Adelaide, and research student Travis Park, from Museum Victoria, recognised.
The team then worked with artist Peter Trusler to reconstruct what pelagornis looked like.
“This meshing of science and art has yielded the most accurate depiction of these fantastic fossil birds ever produced,” Dr Fitzgerald said.
The research was published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.