It was one of those perfect beach days where the sun is shining, a light breeze is blowing, and you could hear the faint chords of a Sam Cooke song drifting through the salty air. At the time, we lived at Folly Beach, 200 steps from the ocean in a little (translation: it was tiny) elevated bungalow we affectionately referred to as the “Tree House.” We walked across the road to the beach access, toting colorful frayed towels over our shoulders and lugging a bright blue insulated cooler filled with ice and water. Inside the cooler, I tucked a small glass container to stash any treasures tossed from the sea that caught our eye. Although we’d been to the beach often even before moving there, we were often left wondering how to find shark teeth — because, well, we never seemed to have any luck. And then, on that perfect breezy summer day, our luck changed.
As often happens in life, we found what we wanted when we weren’t even looking for it. After staring at the sand for what seemed like hours in search of shark teeth, we’d decided to call it quits and go for a swim. I started to wade through the surf when something glinted below the surface. Reaching down, I scooped it out of the water: my first official shark tooth. I finally found one, and it wasn’t just a tiny fleck of black. This tooth was the size of a half-dollar and still gray, meaning it hadn’t fully fossilized yet. And then the thing happened that almost anyone who hunts shark’s teeth for hobby will tell you happens: Your eyes will forever, from that point on, be trained on the sand and seafloor in search of shark teeth. A sizable chunk of any beach trip you ever take will consist of the hunt.
Over the years, we’ve collected hundreds of shark teeth. We now enjoy helping friends and family find their first shark teeth, and the question we often hear — one that we used to always ask ourselves — is how to find shark teeth. What’s the secret? So, why not gather up all the intel I could find and share it here? Keep reading for some of the best tricks and tips when it comes to beachcombing for shark teeth.
How do you find shark teeth in the ocean?
When you think of shark teeth, you might think that what you’ll be looking for are white triangles in the sand or surf. And while fate might smile on you and send a fresh shark tooth your way, you’re much more likely to find a black tooth — or one that’s been fossilized over time. Typically, a shark’s tooth will appear as a wide base (the root) attached to a thinner triangle (the crown).
One of the easiest ways to spot shark teeth is to train your eyes to look for black spots in the sand that are shinier than shells or other ocean debris. The black of a shark’s tooth will appear almost glossy, like onyx.
What is the best time to find shark teeth?
You’ll find seemingly as many opinions on this as there are sharks in the ocean. Some fossil hunting pros swear by going hunting for shark teeth at low tide. Others say you’ll have better luck as the tide is rolling in, dragging new treasures to shell beds and exposing those that are already hidden there. Personally, we’ve found shark teeth at both times. We’ve even found them walking the beach at night with flashlights (when it isn’t sea turtle nesting season).
As a general rule of thumb, though, there are a few times shark teeth hunters — amateur and expert — apparently agree on: after a storm when the waves have exposed new layers of sand and tossed new debris along the shoreline; during a beach replenishment, when the ocean floor gets dredged; and when there are fewer people on the beach and therefore fewer people picking over the sea’s treasures.
Another thing to keep in mind? Objects from the ocean of a similar size and weight tend to collect together. So, wherever you search, keep an eye out for piles of shells, driftwood pieces, or other debris.
Where do you go to find shark teeth?
You’re probably thinking, The beach, duh. However, many people don’t realize that you don’t just find shark teeth at white-sand, saltwater beaches. Where I live, in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, brackish rivers and creeks also prove to be prime shark teeth repositories. Of course, if you aren’t familiar with these areas, you should always seek advice from or go with someone who is — from strong currents and sharp oyster beds to alligators and venomous snakes, there are plenty of elements that merit caution.
If those white-sand, saltwater beaches are more your speed, there are some especially known for yielding plenty of shark teeth. A few favorites? Folly Beach and Cherry Grove Beach in South Carolina; Venice Beach (AKA the self-proclaimed “Shark Tooth Capital of the World”), Casey Key, Ponte Vedra Beach, Amelia Island, Mickler’s Landing, and Manasota Key in Florida; Tybee Island and Cumberland Island in Georgia; and Topsail Beach in North Carolina.
A word to the wise, though: Different states have different regulations regarding the collection of shark teeth and other “fossils.” Here in South Carolina, anyone can collect a “reasonable amount” above the low watermark. But if you want to collect below the low watermark (or scuba dive for them), you must apply for a special hobby license.
How common is it to find a shark tooth?
Again, finding a “fresh” shark tooth is pretty rare. Even some expert fossil hunters only have a few in their possession. But you shouldn’t feel bummed about finding a fossilized tooth. Did you know it takes roughly 10,000 years for a shark tooth to fossilize? Or that in the middle ages, fossilized shark teeth were thought to be petrified dragon tongues? How cool is that to think about?
There are no specific stats I can throw out about how common shark teeth are. However, there are a few figures that help put things into perspective, courtesy of National Geographic. No. 1, sharks have been around for over 400 million years. No. 2, there are over 500 species of sharks. And No. 3, a single shark can lose over 50,000 teeth in its lifetime. So, as you can imagine, that means there are lots o’ shark teeth to be found yet.
Are shark teeth worth money?
Listen, you can almost always find someone who’ll buy whatever it is you’re selling. Shark’s teeth are no exception. Some people are fossil collectors. Some are landlocked and have limited opportunities to ever search for shark teeth themselves, so they’re willing to pay for ones other people have found. Not surprisingly, the bigger shark teeth — namely, megalodon shark teeth — have the most potential to be profitable.
What is the biggest megalodon tooth ever found?
To give you an idea of how impressive megalodon teeth are (and why people will shell out some serious dinero for them), consider this: Although most megalodon shark teeth are around 4- to 5-inches in size, they can measure over 7 inches. The largest verifiable one on record was found near Ocucaje, Peru, and measured a stunning 7.48 inches.
How can you tell if a megalodon tooth is real?
Picking up random bits and baubles on the beach thinking they are shark teeth is all part of the process. But how can you tell if that black fragment in your hand is a shell or a shark tooth? Often, you’ll be able to see the gum line or “root” of the tooth — a distinguishable part of shark teeth. You may also notice finely serrated edges, depending on what type of shark the tooth came from.
If you’re still not certain upon visual inspection, though, try to break the object. Does it break or bend? Then it’s probably not the real deal. Shark teeth are very strong!