While some people head to the North Carolina coast to enter a sandcastle-building competition, others go simply to enjoy the natural, unspoiled beauty of the area.
Over the past decade, North Carolina has been gaining momentum as one of the best places for shark tooth hunting.
The number of megalodon teeth discovered in the Tar Heel State even led to it declaring the megalodon tooth as its state fossil back in 2013.
Since then, notable finds include a nearly six-inch-long megalodon tooth found on Ocean Isle Beach in 2019.
North Carolina is a hotspot for these giant prehistoric teeth that date back some 20 million years. Not only that, but it’s also a great place for unearthing other treasures, including the teeth of other extinct and living sharks.
10 Best Beaches to Find Shark Teeth on the North Carolina Coast
Much of North Carolina was underwater when the megalodon still dominated our seas.
When the waters receded, the cliffs that line the Potomac River started to erode, releasing millions of years’ worth of fossils into the river.
From there, they travel with the current into the sea and accumulate on the islands of North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
This natural process makes these some of the best beaches for hunting shark teeth, especially if there has been a recent disruption in the form of a coastal storm or beach renourishment projects.
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#1 Shark Tooth Island
Although not on the North Carolina coast exactly, Shark Tooth Island is nevertheless one of the state’s best beaches to hunt for shark teeth.
Officially known as Hollis Island, this man-made landmass sits in the middle of Cape Fear River along with a string of other small islands.
These islands were formed in the 1800s when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dug deeper channels to allow large ships to pass through regardless of the tide.
Shark Tooth Island consists of “sand, sediment, and limestone rock that UNCW geologists estimate is between 35 and 40 million years old,” making it an excellent place for unearthing ancient shark teeth.
While you can’t drive to the island, you can kayak there, provided the tide is low enough to expose the two miles of beach you want to explore.
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In addition to fossilized shark teeth, numerous other discoveries must be made.
According to Robert Smith, owner of Watersmith Kayaking, “you can also find an amazing number of other things, including Native American artifacts, Revolutionary and Civil War items, broken shards of pottery and glass.”
#2 Topsail Beach
If you try hard enough, you could find a shark tooth on almost any beach in North Carolina, but if you want to give yourself a fighting chance, a trip to Topsail Beach should be at the top of your list.
Topsail Beach “is one of the most well-known shark tooth islands along the East Coast.” Just last year, one lucky couple discovered two 3-inch-long shark teeth on the island.
They believe Hurricane Elsa may have played a significant role in their discovery, churning up new layers of sediment just before they started their hunt.
Situated on Topsail Island, the beach gets its fossils from the Miocene and Pliocene outcropping on the offshore shelf. The smallest ones get washed ashore quickly and collect along sandbars and in tide pools.
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Larger fossil teeth are more commonly found on the so-called Megalodon Tooth Ledges, some 27 miles and 42 miles offshore.
Nevertheless, your chances of finding shark teeth and other prizes, including conch shells and olive shells, remain high.
#3 Wrightsville Beach
If it’s specifically a megalodon tooth that you’re after, your best bet is to join Marine Biologist and owner of WB Diving, Chris Slog, on one of his trips to the Megalodon Tooth Ledges.
Situated between 26 and 40 miles off the coast of Wrightsville Beach, these ledges were once “ancient river beds.”
Most of the shark teeth found here are some 100 meters below sea level, so these trips are only for advanced divers.
If you’re not yet qualified, the possibility of finding a shark tooth worth thousands of dollars might just be the motivation you need.
Not only are the dives deep, but the currents are strong, but it remains one of the few places in the world where megalodon teeth exist in such high concentrations.
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The occasional megalodon tooth does wash ashore onto Wrightsville Beach, but you’re more likely to find triangular smooth-edged teeth belonging to more common modern-day species like the Atlantic Sharpness.
#4 Emerald Isle
With its golden sands and emerald waters, Emerald Isle is one of the most popular beaches in North Carolina. During the summer, it gets extremely crowded, making it more difficult for shark tooth hunters to spot their prize.
The triangular shapes are often buried in shell beds, making them difficult to find, especially when the tide is high.
The best time to visit Emerald Isle is in the early morning after a storm has unearthed new layers of sediment.
With 12 miles of pristine beach to explore, don’t forget to look up from time to time and enjoy the view over the Atlantic Ocean.
#5 Carolina Beach
Carolina Beach is one of the east-facing beaches of North Carolina and, as such, enjoys favorable currents that see more teeth wash ashore.
According to Marc Neill, an aquarist at N.C. Aquarium, “hunters, are most likely to find teeth from small sharks” on southeastern beaches like Carolina Beach, with those belonging to the Atlantic sharpnose, the blacknose, and dogfish sharks being among the most common.
To find a larger specimen, you need a bit more luck and an eye for spotting dark colors amongst the kaleidoscope of shells.
With time and patience, however, you could uncover an inch-long tooth from a tiger shark or even a sizable specimen from a great white.
#6 Ocean Isle Beach
Ocean Isle Beach doesn’t have the reputation of some of the shark tooth hunting hotspots of South Carolina, but that could all change over the coming months.
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An extensive beach dredging and nourishment project started on Ocean Isle Beach at the end of 2021 and will see around “700,000 cubic yards of sand” added to the easternmost end of the beachfront. This activity is likely to bring many shark teeth to light.
An experienced shark tooth hunter, Betsy Ussery Saintsing, has been discovering shark teeth on Ocean Isle for years and believes the timing is everything.
The best time to find shark teeth is when the tide rises just enough to reach the shell beds along the coast. “Shark teeth are lighter than seashells” she explains, “so they are more easily lifted and rinsed out of the shells.”
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When the conditions are good, Betsy can “can find over 100 teeth in a day,” so there’s no reason you shouldn’t come home with at least a couple of souvenirs!
#7 Ocracoke Island
Famous for its excellent shelling, almost every inch of beach on Ocracoke Island has a secret to reveal.
Ocracoke Island is famous for its exceptional shelling, situated in the coastal Outer Banks region where there are fewer people to distract you from your search.
In amongst the sand dollars and sea glass, the lucky hunter will discover enough shark teeth to rival the world’s best shark teeth hunting destinations.
Hunting shark teeth on Ocracoke Island can be a rewarding experience. A few years ago a local shark tooth hunter discovered a cluster of 75 to 100 teeth all belonging to the same animal.
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Unlike the black triangular shapes of fossilized shark teeth, these were still bright white, suggesting that their owner may still be lurking along the NC coast somewhere. That’s not particularly surprising given the number of shark attacks in the area.
#8 Nags Head
The chances of finding shark teeth on Nags Head are pretty high, especially if you head there at low tide when more shell beds are exposed.
The biggest challenge is differentiating pieces of gray-colored clam shell from the treasures you’ve set your sights on.
Look out from the wide, flat teeth of bottom-dwelling shark species like the sandbar shark among the clam shells, sand dollars, and olive shells.
Thinner, sharper teeth are more likely to belong to an extinct type of Mako shark, while more wedge-shaped teeth come from aggressive, pelagic species like tiger sharks and great whites.
#9 Bald Head Island
Bald Head Island has thousands of acres of protected beauty, comprising golden beaches and subtropical forests.
With no cars allowed on the island, it’s one of the most peaceful places for shark teeth hunting.
Although it takes both time and patience to find a great white tooth like this one on Bald Head Island’s 14-mile beach, it only takes a couple of hours to find shark teeth belonging to a more common species.
Sharks are a constant feature in the waters around the island so your chances of finding a fresh shark tooth are comparatively high.
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The East Beach has less foot traffic and favorable tides, making it a better place to spot shark teeth than the busier South Beach. It’s best to head there at low tide when there’s more exposed sand to explore and fewer boogie boarders to dodge.
#10 Oak Island
Black shark teeth are relatively easy to find on Oak Island’s white sand beaches, especially now there’s a dredging project underway in the sand dunes.
As they dig up the sand, new shark teeth are being exposed, leading to one shark tooth discovering a nice collection of “black Tiger shark teeth at the southern end of Oak Island” just a couple of months ago.
Patience is key, however, as distinguishing the black triangular shape of a shark’s tooth from the black triangular shapes of ancient shells can be challenging.
You stand a better chance of finding a nice specimen if you head out on a bright day when the shark teeth will glint in the sun.
Sharks are common around Oak Island, and several attacks have occurred over the years. The most frequently seen are great whites, sand tiger sharks, and bull sharks, all of which lose teeth at around 1,000 per year!
Are there Shark Teeth in the Outer Banks?
Finding shark’s teeth along North Carolina’s Outer Banks is relatively common. Whether you’re scouring the wet sand or headed underwater, you’re chances of having a successful fossil hunt are high.
Offshore ledges are a treasure trove for megalodon teeth, while the beaches themselves are more likely to yield smaller, younger shark teeth.
Most shark teeth found on the Outer Banks are from common species like the tiger shark and great white.
What Types of Sharks Teeth Can I Find in North Carolina?
North Carolina attracts many divers and historians that want to find shark teeth. Many come hoping to secure a giant Megalodon tooth, but even if they don’t achieve that goal, few go away empty-handed.
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The most commonly found shark teeth in North Carolina belong to the tiger, sand tiger, Atlantic sharp nose, bull, and great white sharks. Less common finds include teeth from the thresher shark and bottom-dwellers like the sixgill.
NC beaches aren’t as famous for their shark teeth as some of those in Florida and South Carolina, but they still have plenty of potentials.
Some areas of North Carolina are currently being dredged as part of a beach renourishment scheme. This brings previously buried treasure and sediment to the surface, increasing your chances of finding shark teeth.
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Every few months, it seems another astonishing find is discovered somewhere along the NC coast. Whether it’s a 6-inch megalodon tooth or a rare sand dollar, there’s seemingly always something lurking on the North Carolina beaches.
Maybe it’s time to stop prevaricating and take a trip to the east coast to see what treasures you can unearth.
Nicky is a British adventurer and animal lover who spends her time exploring the natural world and writing about her experiences. Whether on horseback, underwater, running, hiking or just standing with a fishing rod in hand, she embraces everything her adopted home of South Africa has to offer.