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What is shark tooth hunting you ask?
Similar to combing the sand for seashells or other lost beach treasure, shark teeth are also washed up along the shores, free for the taking, and you won’t even need a metal detector. Sharks have been gliding through the salty ocean for millions of years. When a shark’s life has come to an end, while most of the body is either fed upon by other sea life or disintegrates back into the ocean waters, their teeth remain behind and after thousands of years they fossilized.
Why Are There So Many Shark Teeth in Florida?
Sharks have multiple rows of teeth which are lost and replaced multiple times throughout their life, with a single shark losing 25,000 or more teeth in a lifetime. Many of these teeth get buried in sand and sediment, an oxygen-deprived environment where the tooth absorbs the surrounding minerals, is preserved, and eventually fossilized through a process called permineralization. Florida was submerged and uplifted multiple times in geologic history and sharks were numerous in the warm gulf waters. As water gave way to land, a vast plateau rich in fossils was uncovered, and fossils can be found all over the state today. A deep fossil bed sits just off the coast of Venice, Florida. It is constantly eroded by wave action, so teeth and other fossils come loose and are eventually deposited on the beach.
The fossilized shark teeth on the beach are estimated to be between 2 to 35 million years old spanning the Pliocene and Miocene Epochs. They come from a variety of shark species including mako sharks, bull sharks, sand sharks, lemon sharks, great white sharks, tiger sharks, hammerhead sharks, and the massive megalodon shark which is now extinct. Most teeth on the beach are small, between 1 to 5 cm in length, but megalodon teeth, which can be up to 7 inches long, are the most sought-after prize by shark tooth hunters. Although they are most often found further out, you may get lucky if you go out after a storm when waves are powerful enough to carry up heavier sediment.
We have found thousands of fossilized shark teeth over the years, some so tiny that they are barely distinguishable from a large grain of sand and some the size of our palms. Many of the teeth are solid black or gray, while others are beautiful shades and combinations of green, red, rust, or beige. The color depends on the chemical composition of the sediment in which it was fossilized. You never know what surprises will wash up in the ebb and flow of the tide, and the excitement is always in the search. You can visit the same spot multiple times, yet the experience is always different. We once spent hours and found hundreds of teeth, digging through deep shell piles after a storm. A few days later that same section of beach had been utterly transformed, the shell pile washed away, and not a tooth to be found.
What Equipment Do I Need to Go Shark Tooth Hunting?
Shark’s teeth may be found just below the surface of the sand, so it’s a good idea to bring a shovel, trowel, or bucket so you can dig a little deeper. Shark teeth may also be found in the water along the shore, so it’s a good idea to bring a sifter or strainer so you can dig around in the water. If you want to really have a fun experience, consider investing in some snorkeling gear so you can hunt in deeper waters for shark teeth.
What Is the Best Time to Look for Shark Teeth on the Beach?
There’s no “best time” that’s guaranteed to get you a shark tooth. If you want a guarantee, you just need to hit a store. But if you’re wanting a more likely find, you’ll want to be first on the beach, so go early before the crowds hit. And if you’re really trying to avoid the crowd, think about doing your fossil hunt on a weekday instead of hitting the beach on the weekend.
Going a little deeper into the “when is the right time to hunt for shark teeth,” you are more likely to be successful during a low tide, right before and after high tide, or right after a storm.
During low tide, the water is more calm and clear so you have better visibility. Plus the areas exposed by the receding waters, the drop-offs just along the shore line (a “wash-in”), create a rocky sediment collection area where you can find lots of rocks and shells…and shark teeth!
Storms can help bring ocean debris to shore so there’s more chance of finding ocean treasures after one.
Steps to Finding Shark Teeth
Be Prepared for a Long Hunt
Sometimes it’s a few minutes, but most of the time it’s going to take a while…even a couple of hours. So stay hydrated, have a snack, and bring your hat and some sunscreen.
Know What You’re Hunting
Shark teeth aren’t all exactly the same. Some (the newer ones) are white or yellowish or even brown. Older shark teeth fossils are almost always black in color. Regardless of color, you can generally rely on the ones you find on the beach or shore to be about ⅛ inch to ¾ inch long and even longer than that if you’re a little further away from the shore. Some shark teeth are a long triangle without a top and some are more like a “y” shape. But, like human teeth, not all the teeth in a single shark’s mouth are all the same. So identifying them can be difficult, but worthwhile. It may be worth looking at a shark’s teeth photo guide before you go hunting.
Look for the Obvious
Start by walking the tide lines while hunting for those older fossils of shark teeth, the black triangles of ancient sharks. Keeping this shape and color in mind is going to score your first shark tooth almost every time because those little black triangles are not camouflage against the light beige of the beach sand. And while not all fossilized shark teeth are a perfect triangle, most are. So, once you’ve got your eye looking out for a black triangle, that’s going to stick out like a sore thumb against the brown sand and rounded shell shapes.
Sift Like a Prospector
If you’ve found a promising location with a lot of shells and debris that rolled up with the tide, bring a sifter. Not like a flour sifter, more like a colander or what you’d imagine a prospector using. A search online will reveal many inexpensive choices.
Hit the Water’s Edge
If you have a lot of competition on the beach, a lot of other people out with you, whether they appear to be looking for a shark tooth or not, you might want to look along the water’s edge. The water is always pushing more shells and shark’s teeth to the beach, so sloshing through the water’s edge is going to get you searching the freshest, most recent drops.
Look for Dredge Areas
Dredging is when the local government or the like goes out to the deeper areas and actually pumps fresh sand up into the beaches. So, if you can find an area that is a recent dredge, you’re likely to find a ton of new finds including shark teeth!
If You Find One, There’s Likely More
If you find a shark’s tooth, it’s likely that the conditions are right that, in the same vicinity, you’ll find more. So keep digging, sifting, or whatever you did that was successful because there might be more.
Check for Permits
Before you select your beach to go hunting, you will want to check and see if a permit is required before you go searching for fossils. Although there are a lot of new shark teeth out there, the vast majority of shark teeth that you find on the beach will be fossils. So make sure you’re not violating any local or state rules, make sure to check with the local government or park managers to see if a permit is required.
Best Beaches to Go Hunting for Shark Teeth in Florida
FYI on Venice Beach
Venice Beach is located on Venice Island aka the Shark Tooth Capital. Venice Beach is littered with fossilized shark teeth. Yet, strangely, this beach located in downtown Venice is not a good place to look for shark teeth because the city has pumped sand onto the beach to keep it from eroding. Unfortunately, this caused the fossils to become buried.
Venice Beach is quite popular, and often extremely crowded, hindering shark teeth hunting. There are better choices in Florida and we are not including Venice Beach in our list.
1. Caspersen Beach
Many consider rocky Caspersen Beach the absolute best in Venice, and maybe the entire state of Florida, for shark teeth.
The beach’s topography and converging tides amass shark teeth and other sediments along the depthless drop-off that runs along the front of the beach.
Here, amidst the beach sand, you’ll find a myriad of shark teeth, ranging from the compact, sharp, needle-like teeth of the sand tiger to the larger, more triangular teeth of the bull shark.
Caspersen Beach is Venice’s southernmost beach and it is also ideal for scuba diving, which increases the chance of finding one of those valuable megalodon teeth. Casperson is a quiet, off-the-beaten-path beach where you’ll have plenty of space for finding shark teeth. It is less known than Venice Beach, so if you choose the right time of year, you could have the entire beach to yourself.
2. Manasota Beach
Manasota Beach is located on Manasota Key, a barrier island off the Florida coastline. The beach is a few miles south of Caspersen Beach.
This scenic beach has a beach facility and a boardwalk to get to the beach. Just like the other beaches on our list, fossils can be found washing in the surf and in the tide line. One fun thing at this beach is that the concrete walkway has fossilized shark teeth embedded in it.
Good spots to sift are in the surf, where waves break just in the water, and between the beach and the first sandbar, usually knee to waist deep in water.
Most of the shark teeth are small (less than an inch in size), so look carefully.
3. Casey Key
Casey Key is an upscale barrier island where many celebrities reside. The island is dotted with many private resorts and there are only two beaches open to the public: Nokomis Beach and Jetty Park. Both of these can get pretty busy, especially if you visit during the peak season between February and April.
The beach (Nakomis) is a good spot for hunting shark teeth in the crystal clean water which makes it even more enjoyable.
The southern section of Nokomis Beach tends to be pretty crowded; if you head north, you should find some secluded spaces to find shark’s teeth, especially if you use a shovel to facilitate your search.
4. Brohard Park (Venice Fishing Pier)
The park is popular amongst dog owners, yet is rarely busy and the shark teeth are bountiful here, especially at the edge of the surf.
You will notice that the sand has many black granules in it. This is phosphate grains from the offshore formation washing up. Shark teeth can be found where you see these little black grains. Most of the shark teeth are small (less than an inch in size), so look carefully.
5. Jupiter Beach
People flock to Jupiter all year round, attracted by its warm waters (average temperature of 78 to 81 degrees F) and sheltered shores.
Inasmuch as sharks prefer warm water, Jupiter Beach is a prominent gathering spot.
Situated on a major migration route, the waters in this easterly location are swarming with sharks, so the odds of finding a tooth from a modern day shark are considerably higher than some other Florida beaches.
6. Fort Clinch State Park
Fort Clinch Park is located on Amelia Island on the East Coast of Florida and is a hot spot for shark tooth hunting.
Findings within the state park have included plenty of other sea life besides shark teeth. Stingray mouth plates have been uncovered, along with turtle shells and even the random horse tooth.
There is no need to go digging here, just walk along the tide line and be attentive.
The park also offers vast green landscapes to enjoy. Moreover, the park houses many historic monuments going back to the Civil War for history enthusiasts.
7. St. Augustine Beach
St. Augustine Beach is located in the city of St. Augustine on the northeast coast of Florida. St. Augustine is one of America’s oldest cities and is steeped in historic tradition.
We have found that the best time to visit this beach is after a storm because the roaring waves and whipping of the sea brings the fossilized shark’s teeth from the bottom of the sand to the upper water level of the beach.
8. Palm Beach Island
Better known for its opulent estates and golden beaches, Palm Beach Island has become a terrific spot to find shark teeth in Florida.
A huge dredging project has seen nearly a million cubic yards of sand sucked up from the ocean floor and onto the shore. Within that sand are hundreds of teeth from numerous shark species including the great white and extinct species like the megalodon.
This dredging project has made Palm Beach Island a hotspot for finding shark teeth.
9. Mickler’s Landing Beach
Located at the end of Ponte Vedra Beach, Mickler’s Landing is known for its pink sands and laid-back atmosphere.
The sand gets its unique color from sedimentary rock that is almost entirely made up of shell fragments from various mollusks.
Mickler’s Landing is an isolated beach where you can feel free from overcrowding, however parking here on weekends is known to fill up fast.
Mickler’s Landing Beach is extremely well known for its fossilized shark’s teeth. They are so common that children playing in the sand will locate shark teeth without even looking for them.
Yes…. You Can Keep the Shark Teeth You Find
Many fossil sites in Florida are legally protected, meaning that you are not allowed to collect them, or only allowed to do so with a permit. Shark teeth remain an exception because there are just so many to be found in Florida. But do be mindful, it is still illegal to dig deep into multiple layers of public land as this could negatively impact the ecosystem. There are plenty of teeth near the top without too much effort on your part, so keep your diggings near the surface.
Shark Tooth Hunting Is a Fun Activity for All
The great thing about shark tooth hunting is that it is an activity for all ages. No heavy equipment is required, no long-term training, and you don’t have to wake up at 5 am to do it. It can be a leisurely activity you take part in while watching the sunset or it can be an all-out competition to see who can get the most teeth, the most variety, the most interesting, or the best colors.
Remember, there are plenty of shark’s teeth out their just waiting for you to find them.