I’ve been addicted to hunting shark teeth on beaches for a long time. The activity is meditative and helps clears my mind, at least until exhilaration spikes when I see the perfect tooth and snatch it up seconds before a wave surges in. The popularity of searching for shark teeth seems to have increased over the years. I come across more people actively looking for them than when I started almost twenty years ago. During our week-long beach vacations, my family and I usually find over five-hundred shark teeth. There have been some weeks we’ve found close to a thousand. After seeing some of our more treasured examples, people often ask how they can find more while others express frustration that they never find any at all. This post is for those who are new to shark teeth hunting as well as those who want to increase their hauls. What follows are the best ways I've discovered to spot shark teeth on a beach. If you have your own tips, please leave them in the comments so this post will truly include the best advice to help everyone find more of these prized fossils.
As an aside, I don't work aviation into every post, but something I learned during flying lessons helped me become a better shark tooth hunter. I love when flying skills spill over to life on the ground.
Know what to look for - Teeth still in a shark’s mouth are white. I’d recommend leaving those where they are. But the majority of the single shark teeth scattered on beaches are dark colors, mostly black with grey but you can find them in a variety of hues including reddish-brown to rare blue ones. These teeth have been fossilized over thousands of years, if not millions, and it is part of what makes them so special. Their fossilized color comes from the sediments that sealed and infused them well in the past. So make sure you are looking for color versus white. I have only found a couple white ones in all my years of searching. Aside from color, make sure you are looking for triangles. Most shark teeth have three distinct points. When you first start looking for them, you must train your brain and eyes to spot these points or triangles. Have you ever seen the magic eye puzzles? You look at lines and zig zags that don't appear to be anything, but if you relax your eyes and let them blur slightly or stare into the distance, you suddenly see a 3D object, like a jet or a tiger? Training your mind and eyes to see shark teeth is similar. Look at a patch of sand with shells on it near the waterline and think shiny black triangles. Focus on any shiny black object and ask yourself, is it a triangle? When you do this, the teeth often reveal themselves. Pick up those objects and examine them if you are not sure. Most shark teeth, when free of sand, have a blackish-grey gloss to them, especially if they are still wet from an ebbing wave. Train your mind and eyes to look for these shiny black triangles and you will find teeth… if you are in the right place.
Look on the right beach - Shark teeth can be discovered in many surprising places including creek beds. Millions of years ago, oceans were in different places than they are now. But if you want to find a lot of shark teeth, go to the right beach. I can usually locate shark teeth on most beaches in the U.S. but some locales have an abundance of them. My family finds an incredible amount at the Topsail and Surf City beaches in North Carolina. Many Florida beaches are also ripe with them, including Venice Beach on the gulf coast. For a few years we used to vacation at Holden and Ocean Isle beaches in North Carolina, and while we love the beauty and relative quiet of those areas, we became frustrated with the lack of shark teeth. I think it has something to do with the geography of those beaches since they run almost east-west and are situated under the overhang of Bald-Head Island. Maybe the longshore drift that transports sand, shells and shark teeth, doesn’t deposit as much of the material to the sheltered lee of beaches below Bald-Head. Regardless, I’ve never found as many shark teeth at those beaches even though I’m good at spotting them. Make sure the beach you plan to visit is known for having its share of the shiny black triangles
Search at the right times and places on the beach - You can find shark teeth most anytime at the beach if there is enough light to spot them. But you often find many more at certain times and in optimal situations. Here are several:
- Low tide - More beach is exposed at low tide so you have more hunting ground. I will search for shark teeth any time I’m on the beach, if not reading or playing games with the family, but if it is low tide during daylight hours, I'm there. I like to search an hour or two before low tide until the time it begins to come back in. As the tide ebbs and the waves retreat with it, I don’t fight the water as much. Nothing is more disheartening in shark tooth hunting than spotting a prime specimen right before a wave moves it to someplace you aren’t. After getting experience, you learn to be quick in these situations. But even the best shark tooth hunters will have those moments when a wave sweeps away a tooth moments before it can be snatched up.
- Gentle slopes - Look for parts of the beach that have less slope. Steep sloped parts are tough because retreating waves pull hard on the shells and teeth as water rushes back into the ocean and takes most of those items with it. On gentler slopes, however, the waves seem to leave more to search through. Also, the waves tend to deposit more material at the top of the slope.
- Shell deposits - Walk down most beaches and you’ll see areas where mounds of shells are grouped by similar sizes. Anytime I see these, I search them, often finding several teeth. It’s especially easy if you look right where the waves are hitting these deposits because water is pulling material away little by little, exposing shells and teeth against the sand where it’s easier to spot due to the contrast.
- Low glare - Make sure the sun is behind you or just over one shoulder so you don’t get a glare from the water or wet sand. This glare limits what you can see and you will miss teeth that you would otherwise find if the light is optimal.
- Early morning - As early beach combers often get the best seashells, early risers sometimes get the best shark teeth. But every ebbing wave creates a new landscape, so you never know what it may deposit.
- Sand bars - Sand bars sometime emerge as the tide retreats. As they do, waves are not as forceful over those bits of land so bigger teeth are often deposited and not pulled back into the ocean. Also, the little tidal pools left on the shore side of the sand bar can be a great place to find larger teeth.
- In the surf - Some of the larger ones I’ve found have been in the surf where the water is hitting me somewhere between my ankles and calves. This scenario can be frustrating if the waves are coming too fast. But if the waves slow some, there can be five or six seconds in between when you can see to the bottom after the water stops churning and the foam clears. Use this time to spot a massive shark tooth like the one I found in the Everyday Magic post.
- After a storm or offshore dredging - Any time something churns the water and sand right off the shore, more shark teeth usually make it to the beach.
Stare, don’t scan - In aviation, a mid-air collision can ruin your day, so pilots are on constant lookout for other planes. Early in my flight lessons my instructor told me not to perform a continuous scan of the sky ahead but to break it in sections and stare into them for a few moments. When your eyes continuously move, they can miss the planes especially if they are far away. But stare for a few moments and the planes become visible. It’s the same with spotting shark teeth. If your eyes constantly move, you can miss the teeth. Instead, pick a spot and stare for a few moments, looking for the shiny black triangles. You are much more likely to see the teeth than if you do a continuous scan. Over time with some practice, you’ll become great at spotting the teeth in an area with a brief stare before moving on to the next spot.
Start small then think big - If you’re a rookie shark tooth hunter, try getting close to the shells and sand to look for teeth. If there is a lot of material in your vision, and you are at a beach known for having plenty of shark teeth, you will find tiny ones that most people miss because they are walking and looking from a standing height. Many of these tiny ones can be well-defined and just as exciting to find as the bigger ones if you are new to shark tooth hunting. But more importantly, starting small gives you practice seeing the shapes and colors. After some time, you will become better at spotting them while standing tall and walking because your mind and eyes know what to focus on. Once you become good at finding the small ones, you can find bigger teeth by covering more ground while walking and looking at the larger objects scattered on the beach.
Make it a family affair - While our boys are not as hard-core as my wife and me when it comes to searching for the teeth, they get much enjoyment out of it when they join us. My youngest, who is most like me, has a particular knack for it and has found some high-quality ones. When all of us comb sections of the beach together, spread out a bit, we usually find an extreme amount of them. Maybe it’s part competition or maybe we better concentrate on the area right in front of us instead of looking ahead, worrying we may be missing something big.
Lose yourself - I mentioned the meditative aspect of shark tooth hunting and other than the exhilaration of finding a large, pristine tooth, it's one of the prime reasons I find the activity so enjoyable. Searching for the teeth relaxes me and keeps my mind mostly in the present. I’ve also noticed that if I simply clear my mind, more teeth seem to present themselves. I’m not sure why but I think when my mind is active and absorbing the activities going on around me--swimmers, surfers, people walking and playing on the beach--I lose focus and miss many of the teeth around me. But once I zone in on the sand and let everything else fall away, I find plenty. So now I save my people watching for when I’m in the beach chair.
Beyond the beach - Shark teeth can be found in lots of places other than beaches. I mentioned earlier they can be found in creek beds. As water cuts through the sediment layers, all sorts of fossils can be exposed including the teeth. Scuba divers often find massive ones in river beds, sounds, waterways and out in the ocean. Rock quarries can also have an abundance. I even have a friend who once found a large one in a driveway that had been refreshed with new gravel. So keep your eyes open when hiking and walking. You never know what you may spot, including one of the other prized finds that resembles a triangle: an arrowhead.
I hope this helps you find more shark teeth when at the beach, but one word of caution. The activity can become highly addicting. Your beach vacations may never be the same. If anyone has specific questions, just leave them in the comments and I’ll answer them the best I can or perhaps others reading this post will chime in and help. Happy shark tooth hunting and good luck!