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.
A young boy, along with his mother and father, are stooped over searching for something on the beach. They appear to be looking for something amongst the shells and sand. The little boy is holding a long-handled tool that resembles a snow shovel with a wire mesh basket attached to the end. With his dad's help, the boy heartily scoops sand and shells from the water's edge, letting the water and sand drain from the sieved basket.
The boy inspects the catch, sifting through the shells. He shrieks “I found one!" as he proudly bounces up and down holding within the palm of his tiny hand - a small black shark's tooth.
This scene plays out daily on the beach of the “Shark Tooth Capital of the World" located in Sarasota County.
The Gulf beaches in and around Venice, Florida, hold a bountiful cache of fossilized shark teeth. 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.
Back on the beach, a little further down, Kitty, a new Floridian from New York who moved to the area less than a year ago, is wading waist-deep in the water inspecting her newly scooped catch. Already a veteran shark teeth hunter, Kitty spends most of her week strolling along the beach hunting for the fossilized treasures.
She is bubbly and eager to share some tips about her new hobby. “Sharks' teeth come in differing sizes, colors and shapes," she beams. “Some are black, others gray or brown. Early mornings are best and weekdays are ideal, because there are fewer people. The best time to collect teeth is often after a storm. But it's different with every storm, because it can bring a lot of teeth or it may carry them further out. You never know."
Kitty keeps her stash of fossils in a little pill bottle she carries. “I have enough at home to fill up a vase," she proudly exclaims.
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.
If you want to enjoy this authentic Florida activity, here's what you need to know:
Where to Go in Sarasota County
The Venice Pier
The Venice Pier 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.
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)
Facts: 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.
Venice Fishing Pier at Brohard Park
1600 Harbor Dr. South, Venice
Sharky's on the Pier
Phone: (941) 488-1456
Fins at Sharky's
Phone: (941) 999-3467
Sharks Tooth Festival
If you are around during April, check out the annual Venice Sharks Tooth Festival with local festivities and collectors showcasing shark teeth for sale.