Some people head to the beach to catch waves, while others content themselves with catching a few rays of the sun.
The more curious may spend some time searching for shells and fossils, amongst which they may be lucky enough to uncover some ancient shark teeth.
Shark tooth hunting is a fun activity for all the family and a potentially lucrative one. Some rare shark teeth date back millions of years and fetch huge prices at auction.
Although you’re unlikely to find a fossilized jaw from the extinct Edestus heinrichi, just finding a relatively common shark tooth fossil can be exhilarating.
If you want to know how to find sharks’ teeth on the beach, you’ve come to the right place.
From the best locations to the most insightful shark teeth identification guides, we’ll explore every aspect of finding shark teeth and how to improve your chances of uncovering a rare find.
Location: Where to Look for Shark’s Teeth?
Shark teeth can be found on almost any beach worldwide if you look carefully enough. Florida is considered the best place to search for shark teeth in the US.
Many of the beaches in Florida, and particularly around the Gulf Coast, were underwater millions of years ago and offer a treasure trove of shark teeth in the layers of sedimentary rock that once formed the ocean bed.
Any disruption to the beach is liable to expose new finds. After a storm is a good time to find shark teeth, for instance. Similarly, any beaches undergoing dredging or beach reconstruction processes make good potential hunting grounds.
Beach reconstruction or nourishment involves “pumping or trucking sand onto the beach.” It aims to halt shoreline erosion, but as it brings “tons of fossil-rich sand and sediment” to the surface, it also creates excellent shark tooth hunting possibilities.
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You also stand a good chance of finding shark teeth in areas where the water is constantly moving. Sandbars and tidepools also make good shark tooth hunting grounds.
Once you’ve identified your chosen beach, head for the spots where you’ve got the best chance of finding sharks’ teeth. Anywhere you see piles of shells or gravel are good places to start.
If there aren’t any noticeable mounds, check the strand line instead. This line is where the ocean deposits organic matter and other debris at high tide.
Time: When to Look?
The best time to look for shark teeth is just after a few big storms when new layers of sand are exposed.
Your chances of finding shark teeth increase at low tide when you have the maximum amount of beach to explore. Many of your potential findings will still be hidden underwater at high tide.
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Tools and Materials
You can enjoy a day of hunting shark teeth with no equipment. All you need is a sharp eye and lots of patience.
The more you sift through the sand, the better your chances of finding shark teeth.
That’s not enough for serious hunters, and they will often equip themselves with some kind of sift or sieve to make their search more effective.
What Tools do you Need to Look for Shark Teeth?
Digging through the sand with your fingers can result in some exciting finds. A six-year-old boy recently found a giant Megalodon tooth “just lying there on the sand and pebbles” on a beach in the UK. He didn’t need any tools to uncover this rare find, but he was one of the lucky ones.
You stand a better chance of finding fossilized shark teeth if you use some kind of sieve to sort through the sand. A kitchen sieve will work adequately enough, although the mesh is very fine, and will retain some larger granules of sand and shell fragments.
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Kitty litter scoops can also work but have the opposite problem – the slats are so far apart that you could easily lose smaller shark teeth through the gaps.
In Florida, the humble snow shovel is “the tool of choice for many people looking for shark teeth.” In some places, like Venice beach, you can even hire them for the day.
If you’re really committed to hunting for shark teeth, your best bet is to invest in a sifter specifically designed for the purpose. There are two basic types available – a hand-held sifter for searching beaches and river beds, and a floating sieve sifter for more coastal areas.
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Once you’ve got yourself a sieve or sifter, you’re ready to start hunting. No other tools are necessary as “digging to expose more layers of earth is often discouraged or prohibited on public land because it negatively impacts those environments.”
How do you Look for Shark Teeth?
The ocean has a useful habit of arranging things by size and density so your best bet is to look in places where small shells and gravel have accumulated.
Train your eye to pick out specific colors during your search. Although modern-day shark teeth will be white in appearance, they’re extremely rare and not worth hunting for.
On the other hand, fossilized shark teeth tend to be black due to the phosphate that forms around the bone.
When you embark on your first shark tooth hunt, concentrate on identifying small black items. The chances of you finding a 4-inch megalodon tooth are fairly slim, but you might turn up several smaller teeth in a matter of hours.
What To Look For?
Keep an open mind about what it is you’re looking for. According to the paleontologist Ashby Gale, “not all teeth look like those of the iconic megalodon or great white.”
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Rather than limiting yourself to looking for black triangles, look out for long, slender shapes and even shards of a fragmented tooth.
As Gale says, “If you get used to spotting the small ones, you’ll know when there’s a big one.”
Don’t just concentrate on shape and color – patterns, textures, and symmetry are all tell-tale signs that could help you differentiate a shark’s tooth from other shells and debris.
Fossilized teeth are much denser and more sturdy than shells which tend to feel papery and fragile. Weighting a fragment in your hand can help you distinguish between a fragment of a shell and a shard of a tooth.
Looking for shark teeth is only the first step in the shark tooth hunting process and, once you’ve found one, identifying it is a whole new ballgame.
Even experts at the Florida Museum admit “it can be extremely difficult to identify shark teeth to the species level.”
Although identifying the species and age of sharks’ teeth is challenging, getting a basic idea of where they came from is rather more straightforward.
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Bottom-dwelling shark species, like angel and nurse sharks, have “dense flattened teeth” that they use to crush their prey. On the other hand, fast-moving sharks like the blue and bull sharks have sharp, pointed teeth that look like needles, which they use to grip their slippery prey.
The great white shark has distinct, triangular teeth with serrated edges, which enable it to cut its prey into smaller pieces.
Even plankton feeders like the whale shark have teeth. They just don’t use them very much. These non-functional teeth are small and hooked, usually curving back into the mouth.
Unfortunately, it’s too simplistic to divide shark teeth into just four categories. Within a single shark’s mouth, there could be up to four different types, all of which can vary in shape, size, and curvature depending on where they were positioned.
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Age also plays a factor in the morphology of a shark’s teeth due to a changing diet. For example, juvenile great whites feed primarily on fish. However, by the time they reach adulthood, “their jaws are strong enough to handle marine mammals like seals.”
As their prey changes, so do the shape and size of their teeth, gaining or losing serrations and either broadening or narrowing as their prey demands.
As if that didn’t complicate things enough, “sexual dimorphism must also be taken into account when identifying shark teeth.”
There are no dentists in the ocean so some sharks may develop some dental irregularities that distort a normal tooth beyond all recognition.
Numerous online identification guides can help you identify teeth accurately, but getting beyond the genus to the specific species is challenging even with this expert advice.
It’s somewhat easier to identify the age of your shark tooth as you match this to the geologic age of the location where you found it.
4 Tips To Increase Your Chances of Finding Shark Teeth
#1 Choose a Good Location
Although you can find shark teeth on almost any beach, you have a better chance in areas where other fossils have been found before. You can also use a geologic map like this one to identify likely areas.
For example, the area around Venice Beach is thick with sediment from the Pliocene era, when the megalodon started to disappear.
Once you’ve got used to looking for shark teeth fossils in popular hunting grounds, you can start widening your search to other beaches with prominent piles of shells.
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#2 Get The Timing Right
Head down to the beach just after a storm, and you’ll have the first pick of all the newly uncovered debris, assuming it’s not all underwater.
Low tide exposes more of the beach, giving you more space to explore.
Once you get to the beach, head for the space between the shoreline, or high water mark, and the water’s edge.
Here, you’ll find patches of gravel and debris, which could lurk a chunk of “black gold,” which is how some collectors describe their shark tooth fossils.
Once you’ve chosen a beach, visit it frequently, bearing in mind that the landscape changes every 12 hours. As a result, the slightest disruption on the ocean floor could reveal newer or even larger teeth.
#3 Know What You’re Looking For
It’s relatively easy to find a single shark tooth using nothing more than the naked eye, especially if you know what you’re looking for.
Don’t focus on finding newer teeth, which are extremely rare, and focus instead on the black triangular shapes of fossilized shark teeth.
Similarly, instead of scouring the beach for that elusive megalodon tooth, concentrate on smaller, more viable treasures. Look out for a flash of black amongst the colorful broken shells, and then sift through the debris to get a better idea of your findings.
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Once you’ve found one shark tooth, you’ll find it easier to find more, and, before you know it, you’ll have quite a collection.
#4 Identify Your Findings
Finding shark teeth is only the beginning of your journey. Finding out who they belonged to is arguably the fascinating part of the process.
If you suspect you’ve located one of the more commonly found shark teeth, check out this simple photographic guide and see if you can find anything similar there.
If that doesn’t give you the answers you were looking for, try Florida Museum’s Fossil Shark Teeth ID Guide. This is a rather complex guide, but it will give you the most accurate results if you’re knowledgeable enough to answer all the questions.
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Altnertiavely, buy yourself a book on shark teeth identification with color pictures and detailed descriptions to help you track down the exact species of shark your teeth came from.
Other Things You Might Find
Although finding shark’s teeth means staying focused on black triangular shapes, experts warn against ignoring everything else. If you concentrate on looking at symmetry and patterns and picking out black objects, you could uncover a fossil of a different kind.
Last year, two amateur fossil hunters in the UK uncovered “a huge prehistoric fossilized bone, believed to be from an elephant.” Other interesting finds include teeth from both the saber-toothed tiger and the woolly mammoth and turtle shells dating back as far as the Ice Age.
Shark tooth hunting is a fun and educational activity that gives people of all ages a chance to reconnect with the distant past. These fossilized teeth are all that remain of some of the world’s most ancient and fascinating creatures.
You don’t need any special equipment to find teeth – just your hands and naked eye will do the trick, especially if you focus on fossil hot spots at the beginning.
The more shark teeth you find, the easier it will be to find more, and you could accumulate quite a collection if you stick at it.
It will allow you to enjoy your local beaches and deepen your understanding of the past and the creatures that dwelled in our ancient oceans.
If you’re lucky, it could even prove profitable, with serious collectors willing to spend over $1,000 for a particularly rare specimen.
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.