In this article, we’re going to be talking about how to find shark’s teeth. Not where mind you, that’s another subject altogether but rather how to go about finding them.
At the onset, it might seem rather straight forward. Walk around while looking down. That will undoubtedly work…eventually, but there are a few tricks that will tip the odds of success in your favor. It’s like playing the ultimate game of Where’s Waldo.
There are probably as many methods of finding shark’s teeth as there are people looking for them. Everyone processes visual input a bit differently and those processes heavily influence the outcome of your search.
The tooth shall set you free
Seeking the tooth is a liberating, fun, family activity that all can enjoy. Whether you’re a rambunctious five-year-old or a calm, collected, deliberate-moving senior, it’s still a thrill to hold a piece of tangible evidence of life existing thousands if not millions of years ago.
It’s equally enjoyable as a solitary hobby too. It’s not really solitude when you go it alone because of the ocean with all its creatures only a few steps away. A solitary beach stroll provides time to think in an atmosphere of rhythmic waves, sky, seagulls chittering about, and tons of fresh air. Nice.
Fossils, and yes shark’s teeth are fossils, ignite our curiosity and imagination about earth’s history and long extinct creatures that once roamed the very spot we are standing. There’s something fascinating about finding and holding a fossil that you know is likely millions of years old. It boggles the mind to think an object could remain intact for so long, doesn’t it? And yes, shark’s teeth are fossils.
It’s true that many of the fossil remains found are casts or imprints of the original item. Most shark’s teeth, however, are the original tooth transformed by sediments, chemical processes, and a whole lot of time to become the historical treasure you’ll soon be holding. Every fossil is a unique piece of Mother Nature’s handiwork. It’s one of a kind and at least 10,000 to more than a few million years old.
Though most of the shark’s teeth you find in modern-day Florida dates from the Miocene Epoch (23 mya). It’s very likely the teeth you will be finding predate mankind’s appearance in Florida by several hundred thousand years! Humans are the new kid on the block in Florida. The first Snowbirds arrived in the Sunshine State around 18,000 years ago.
I don’t know of another place where you can go for a casual stroll and find so many ancient odds and ends lying about like you can on a Florida beach…fossils and shark’s teeth too!
OK. I know you’re excited and ready to learn how to go about starting your own collection of shark’s teeth, so let’s get to it. This is going to be fun!
In the beginning
When we first moved to Florida, my 12-year-old daughter was visiting the local beaches for the first time. I was in the midst of telling her the how’s, why’s, and wonders of looking for shark’s teeth when she bent down, picked one up, and asked, “You mean like this?” she stuck her hand out holding this nice, big sand tiger tooth she saw laying right next to my foot!
Beginner’s luck, I think to myself, but she has gone on to consistently demonstrate that she has the eye, an uncanny knack for finding them.
Beachgoers, especially out of state vacationers, often say, “I’ve never found one. What do they look like?”
Well, that’s the first thing you need to establish. What they look like in general and specifically how they look laying in or on the sand.
There are all shapes and sizes of shark’s teeth. Most all are triangular shaped but they come in various lengths, colors, and widths.
While the shape of a tooth may register with me, it might be the color or texture for you. Once you have discovered exactly what lights up your radar, you’re well on your way to a bucketload of toothy treasures.
A good starting point is to borrow a tooth from a friend or buy a small tooth at a novelty shop. Since most of the teeth you’ll find on Florida’s east coast are black, select a black one. There are lighter shades, even some white ones too but if you only buy one, make it a shiny black one.
What to expect
While the occasional Megalodon tooth (up to 7 inches in length!) is found on east coast beaches, most of your findings will probably be in the ¼” to 2” range.
Put in proper perspective, finding a handful of smallish teeth require a sharp eye and good focus. ANYONE can trip over a Megalodon tooth, right?
Well, that’s what I tell myself anyway. Sounds reasonable enough but it’s really just rationalizing having not found a mega Meg yet. I swear by all that’s toothy that I will find a Megalodon tooth and when that happens, followers of this blog will be the first to hear about it.
Incidentally, Megs are essentially the ♥ Gold Medal ♥ of shark’s tooth hunting and they can be worth some serious $$$ too, depending on condition and size.
Yes, in this instance, size does matter, and these guys were whoppers!
Weighing in at as much as 60+ tons and up to 60+ feet long, Megalodons are believed to be the largest marine predator to ever to have existed on the planet.
Model of Megalodon jaws
Back to our quest
It’s time to head off to the beach with your test tooth in hand.
Toss the tooth on the dry sand, well above the surf line and pay attention to what you notice first about it tooth first. Right then. Now pick up the tooth and move down toward the water’s edge into the wet sand area.
You want the water to just reach a few inches above where you place the tooth. Do this carefully because you’d be amazed at how quickly it can disappear.
There you go. Now you know what you’re looking for.
Once you see a tooth in its natural environment; you start strengthening your brain’s ability to recognize their movements, patterns, and various ways they present themselves on the beach. You just need to see that one example to get rolling.
By-the-way. You’re probably well on your way to a toothy obsession by now. Welcome aboard!
Now for a bit of magic!
Move a little further down toward the waves. Take your shark tooth and toss it (think of it as a sacrifice to Neptune) on the sand where you saw the previous wave stop all that tumbling action.
We’re talking about the spot at the top where the surf is actively moving in and out. Not the rolling, crashing, frothy bit, but right where the water flattens out into a thin sheet of saltwater moving in and out of the ocean.
Take a moment to say goodbye to Mr. Tooth because you’ll likely you’ll never see it again!
The frothy surf bit of surf is suspected to be a molecular transporting device. Think not? Try dropping a nice big shark’s tooth, wedding ring, glasses, or some other small, heavier than water object in that froth and immediately try and find it again. Good luck with that.
See? It’s gone. I’m telling’ you, it’s a molecular transporter just like on Star Trek. “Beam me a tooth, Scotty!”
I personally use a combination of methods…I think. It’s a bit of mystery.
I looked for a long time before finding my first shark’s tooth but after that, I don’t know if it’s the color, shape, texture, or just exactly what it is that lights up my radar now, but they seem to jump out of whatever matrix I’m looking in.
You just need to find that first one or two and it’s game on! So, that’s the reason for the previous exercise.
I’ve known people that have literally searched for years, never finding a single tooth. Then, while standing there on the beach listening to their lament, I spot a nice shiny black specimen laying on the sand within a few feet of where we’re standing. It’s amazing the kind of reactions that can evoke.
It’s simply a matter of focus, I think. Some days I can spot a tiny fraction of a tooth sticking out of the sand and scoop up a nice specimen. Then there are the other days the tooth could be the size of a lottery ticket and I walk right past without seeing it. Weird.
I believe my daughter, on the other hand, could spot one blindfolded! She’s a shark tooth ninja!
Having said that, I’ve walked a few feet behind someone looking for toothy treasures on the beach and sure enough, they’ll walk right over a nice, big, pointy specimen lying in plain sight right on top of the sand…and they miss it.
That’s when I catch up to them and say, “Hey. You missed this one!
OK, well maybe I don’t do that. Alright! I’m lying. That tooth is MINE now!! Don’t judge me.
My favorite tooth seeking strategy
One of my favorite strategies for finding shark’s teeth is simply not to look for ‘em at all. Seriously!
When things seem a bit slow, I start looking for other fossils, arrow heads, bones, bottle caps, gold (have never found any), trash (find lots of that), interesting shaped rocks or shell bits, meteorites (never found one), etc., and I start finding shark’s teeth!
Funny how that works, eh? It also makes beachcombing way more interesting. The shark’s teeth become a bonus to an otherwise productive day. Win-win!
This is also a good method that allows us to practice what we preach about spending time anywhere in the great outdoors.
Leave it better than you find it
Here are a few of the methods used when looking for shark’s teeth on the beach in Florida.
- Briskly walking and covering as much beach as you can while scanning the surface layer of sand Just above and right at the surf line
- Digging and sifting sand on the beach just beyond the reach of the waves. This method rarely fails to produce teeth if there are teeth there to be found
- Perusing the shell lines and shell rafts left exposed on the beach by the previous high tide. You never know what is mixed in with all those shells. Maybe even a Meg!
NOTE: If you dig a hole, fill it back in when finished to prevent trapping and killing sea turtles.
There are a few things to keep in mind as you search
- It’s a matter of timing. On a typically crowded beach, you’ll find the biggest teeth if you’re there when they wash up in the surf. They don’t lay there long if they are of any size.
- Every time the waves come in and go back out, they cover and uncover shells, fossils, teeth, and other artifacts. Each cycle literally refreshes the hunting ground. Just keep looking. Refreshed, new beach sand beach is only a few wave cycles away.
- Beach erosion plays a huge part in the availability of artifacts (and Shark’s teeth) on the beach at any given time. Whether a beach is building or being worn away can be determined by the severity of the undertow.
- If you’re attempting to catch teeth in the surf or on the beach. You do not need a permit to pick up shark’s teeth on public lands in Florida.
- You do, however, need a permit to collect artifacts. You can obtain a permit at this website and it’s only $5.00 a year should you decide you need one. I personally recommend getting a permit because you never know what you’re going to find washed up on the beach and the fees help support the University of Florida Museum.
- If you find human remains, regardless of age or condition, those are to be reported to the authorities immediately. It happens. It is illegal to possess those.
The one constant
If there is one constant with regard to beaches, it’s change. A stretch of sand that produces dozens of fossils and artifacts today, could well offer up nothing at all the next day. The influences of tidal action, currents, and undertow all play a part.
When a strong undertow is felt, there’s a very good chance the beach is in an eroding phase and new treasures are being uncovered. It’s only a matter of time before they begin to show up on the beach. Back to that timing thing again.
A bit about geology and how it can impact your search
You don’t have to be a geology nerd to get something of value from the following.
There’s an excellent book available titled Roadside Geology of Florida. It describes in detail the various locations of geologic features of Florida, including the location of fossil beds of interest to any fossil/shark tooth collector. This and other shark tooth reading related material can be located on our Library Page.
Shark’s teeth and other Florida fossils often lay buried in accumulations referred to as beds. Those beds can be located anywhere from right under your feet to miles off the coast. Strong currents and wave action move recently freed fossils and artifacts to and from the beach. The Continental Shelf is the line of demarcation between relatively shallow coastal waters and the realm of the deep ocean in Florida. On the west coast, the Florida Platform extends as much as 150 miles into the Gulf of Mexico and on the east coast, distance varies from 15 to 60 miles. Those areas produce the fossils we find on our beaches.
The presence of nearby streams, rivers, storms, waves, wind, and proximity of fossil beds all play a part in determining when and if you’ll find anything on any given day. In fact, there are some beaches that produce teeth consistently and others that rarely ever produce at all. That’s determined by the same factors previously mentioned.
In some areas the fossil layer was laid down over 56 million years ago can be covered by anywhere between one to a hundred feet or more of overburden. The average depth of fossil deposits in some locations on the west coast of Florida, Venice is a good example, is around 18 to 35 feet. Lots-o-fossils there!
Venice has the good fortune of being right on top of a fossil bed laid down between 2 and 23 million years ago. As fossils erode from the exposed bed under the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, then waves bring them ashore for eager enthusiasts like you and me to find.
I’m continuing research to determine what the average depth of the average fossil bed is on the east coast. I’ll post in this blog when I found out though.
If you’re interested in Florida’s geology, (and who isn’t?) this report prepared by Stetson University is a great read. Florida has an amazing geologic history!
Although the Florida Platform base started forming around 56.5 million years ago during the Eocene Epoch, it didn’t begin rising above the surface of the ocean until around 35.5 million years ago during the Oligocene Epoch and only then periodically as sea levels rose and fell. https://floridadep.gov/fgs
The landmass we know as Florida now has been above the waves for between 2.5 to 4.5 million years. It continues to this day to change in size as sea levels rise and fall. In fact, Florida was at one time more than a hundred miles wider than it is today and other times less than 10 miles wide and 100 miles long!
What you will not find in Florida?
Just as an interesting side note, don’t expect to find dinosaur fossils in Florida. Why? They were extinct around 30 million years before Florida emerged from the ocean.
On the upside, Florida is literally constructed from all sorts of vertebrate and invertebrate fossils all captured in a layer of sediment laying on a bedrock of limestone dating back to the Miocene Epoch. (23 million years ago)
This is good news for fossil hunters and they come from all over the world to search for that next priceless find.
In our next post, we’ll look at some of the tools tooth hunters use and talk a bit about where to look as well.
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