It's a picture-perfect morning on Southwest Florida's Venice beach, as the cloudless royal blue sky meets the far-off horizon. The emerald-green Gulf of Mexico gently laps onto the sandy shoreline, and a few barefooted beachcombers are off in the distance, searching for the discarded teeth of the ocean’s infamous hunters.
Where to find them
The Gulf beaches in and around Venice, Florida, hold a bountiful cache of fossilized shark teeth. Shark teeth collectors say the best places to look for the fossils are any beach accesses south of the Venice Jetty, including Casey Key and Manasota Key.
The Venice Fishing Pier at Brohard Park is right in the heart of shark's tooth country and an ideal place to begin your journey, especially if you are new to the area. Before you start searching the sands, take a walk out on the scenic 740-foot pier and stop at Papa's Bait Shop. There you can rent or buy the “Venice Snow Shovel," the screened basket fitted onto a handle to help you dig shark teeth. And after a day of fossil hunting, you might want to celebrate your bounty at Sharky's on the Pier or the fancier new Fins restaurant, both with a spectacular Gulf view where you can enjoy a well-deserved and delicious fish sandwich and a beverage to toast the sunset.
Ten million years ago, when Florida was submerged under water, the area was teeming with sharks. Over time, as the water receded giving way to land, the prehistoric sharks died - their skeletons disintegrated, but their fossilized teeth remained. The Venice coastal area, just south of Sarasota, sits on top of a fossil layer that runs 18-35 feet deep. With storms and waves, the fossils are slowly driven into the shallow waters and then up onto the beach.
How to find them
Most people who look for shark teeth simply stroll along the beach scanning the sand for the shiny black teeth. Others, seeking faster results, walk to the water's edge where the waves break and there is a foot-high drop-off ledge. They reach down to the edge of the drop-off or even wade out a few feet into the water to scoop up sand and shells. Some use a shovel, a kitchen strainer or just scoop the sand and shells with their hands. Once scooped, they bring it back to the beach and pour it onto the sand. Then they sit on the beach and sift through, looking for their prizes. Other fossil parts, bits of coral, interesting shells or small pebbles may catch the eye, but it is likely that at least one or more teeth will be found in most large scoops.
Most shark teeth are from 1/8" to 3/4" or even a bit larger. The really large shark teeth are usually farther out and may require dive equipment to locate. Local Venice dive boats will take you out as they cruise a few miles from the shore. In fact, several boat captains charter trips along the Venice coastline in search of prehistoric fossils and shark teeth. Call any local Venice dive shop, and they will recommend captains specializing in fossils.
Get a book, or a Guide
Before you know it, you'll have a collection of shark teeth and begin wondering why they are so different in shape, color and size. With a handy guide found at local bookstores, it will provide pictures that assist you with teeth identification of the individual known shark species. There are sand, lemon, mako, bull, whitetip, megalodons - just to name the common ones. Some are pointier or fatter, or even sharper at the ends. You'll have fun just looking at the variety.
Things you will need: Hat, sunscreen, small baggie or container for your shark teeth. (Optional) Kitchen sifter, or the Venice “snow" shovel basket (buy at the pier or Ace Hardware)
Sharks produce 20,000-25,000 teeth over their lifetime
Shark teeth sizes can range from 1/8" – 3.5"or more
The mighty Megalodon shark tooth fact: 1" of the tooth represents 10 feet of the actual length of the prehistoric shark.