Fossil tracks belonging to large, carnivorous dinosaurs (Theropods) have been discovered near Inverloch by palaeontologists from Monash University and Museum of Victoria.
It is the first time tracks of this kind have been found in Victoria. The three separate tracks show at least two or three partial toes, about 35 cm long and based on track sizes, it is estimated that these dinosaurs were 1.4-1.5 meters tall at the hip.
Scientists believe the tracks were likely to have been made by large Theropods walking on river floodplains about 115 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period.
Two of the tracks were found by Monash University palaeontologists Professor Patricia Vickers-Rich, Lesley Kool, honorary research associate Anthony Martin and Thomas Rich of Museum Victoria in February of last year and a third track was discovered by Monash University student and archaeological dig volunteer Tyler Lamb in February of this year.
Analysis of the tracks has only just been finalised by scientists at Emory University, Georgia, USA.
"The tracks are the first known of these dinosaurs in Victoria and demonstrate that they were living in the same area where their bones are being found, near the Dinosaur Dreaming dig site at Bunurong Marine Park," Professor Vickers-Rich said.
Other possible, partial dinosaur tracks have been found at the same site and another locality in the Otway Ranges, but these have not been studied in detail yet.
The tracks are especially significant for showing that large dinosaurs were living in a polar environment during the Cretaceous Period, when Australia was still joined to Antarctica and close to the South Pole.
Professor Vickers-Rich has been studying the dinosaurs and mammals of Victoria for nearly 30 years, but until this past year, only one dinosaur track (from a small herbivorous dinosaur) had been documented.
"These preliminary results provide hope that more such tracks will be found in the future, now that researchers know about them. We expect that more dinosaur tracks will be recognised in the Otway and Strzelecki Groups through a better understanding of processes that affected track preservation in polar environments," Professor Vickers-Rich said.
The discoveries were made official at the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology meeting in Austin, Texas (USA) last Friday.
Monash University is Australia's largest and most internationally focused Australian university. Next year celebrating its 50th anniversary, the University was recently ranked at number 38 in the world in the 2006 Times Higher Education supplement.
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