Searching for Shark Teeth in Venice
So just what makes Venice such a draw for shark teeth, considering all of Florida’s Gulf Coast is teeming with sharks ? Well, the shark teeth found there are actually millions of years old. Because there was no shark hunting way back then (among other things), there was an enormous volume of sharks, says Randy Boshela of Venice-based World Fossils, Minerals, and Gifts. For some reason, the Venice and Manasota area became a feeding frenzy for sharks and whales because of the large number of fish in the area, Boshela says.
The sharks that swam in the Gulf waters so long ago died and fell to the ocean floor. Their bodies are covered with silt and sand, says David Pierce, business development director of the Venice Area Chamber of Commerce. Then a storm comes, and everything changes. “Water storm action exposes the sharks’ teeth, and they wash up on shore,” he says.
About 40 or 50 years ago, people who dived near Venice beaches would find great masses of shark teeth–including individual teeth as large as four to five inches in size, Boshela says. “Beachgoes would use the shark teeth as Frisbees,” he says. The large quantity of teeth found by divers and on the beaches led to Venice becoming well known as the Shark Tooth Capital of the World, Boshela says.
The teeth that wash up on shore most often include ones from mako, bull, sand, tiger and lemon sharks, Pierce says. The teeth are usually one-eighth of an inch to three inches in size. Once in great while, Pierce says you can find a megalodon shark tooth–the largest of which can be more than seven inches. Nowadays, megalodon teeth are more commonly found by divers on expeditions at some nearby manmade reefs. “They’re still out there, especially for divers,” Boshela says.
There’s now an annual festival (to be held this year April 8-10) in its honor, where attendees can see and even buy shark teeth of all shapes and sizes. Visitors come from up to 100 miles away to attend the festival, Pierce says.
Venice has a couple of area beaches, but the best shark tooth hunting is currently on Caspersen Beach, Pierce says. Although Venice Municipal Beach is well known for tooth hunting, the senior population that lives nearby is known to take early-morning walks and scoop up the best toothy finds.
How to Go Shark Tooth Hunting
On a sunny late February day on Venice Municipal Beach (about 75 degrees with a slight breeze), a few shark tooth hunters, mostly children, can be seen. One family has the “Florida snow shovel”—a wire mesh shovel that makes it easier to sift through sand and look for small items such as shark teeth.
The beach is expansive, the sand is as soft as a fluffy carpet, and the shells and other remnants found on the beach are mostly broken into small pieces. This is a contrast from the shell finds on some other Gulf beaches, such as Bradenton Beach or Lido Beach, where full and sometimes even large shells are a common find.
With the gentle sound of waves in the background and a surprisingly quiet public considering the number of children on the beach, you can go about shark tooth hunting with a shovel or with your hands. My son and I used our hands to dig and mistook some small hollow white shell pieces for shark teeth—come to find out, the shark teeth you find on the beach are almost always black, brown, gray, or tan, according to Pierce.
A retiree originally from the Bronx who looks a bit like Santa Claus (but with a New York accent) is talking to a family about his numerous findings of shark teeth and other treasures as he combs the beach almost daily with his metal detector. Hanging from his body are various contraptions that help him as he “works”—including some rubber-like protectors against stingray bites, should he have to go in the water.
Metal detector man says finding shark teeth is hard now than it used to be, as more of the beach is underwater. There were times when beach visitors could find all kinds of fossils in addition to teeth, such as horse teeth from millions of years ago.
Alas, a two-hour visit to Venice Beach doesn’t yield any shark teeth finds for us, although metal detector man gives us a small sharp one and a nine-year-old girl gives us a slightly larger one that she found. We also find a smattering of black coral. Our quest for shark teeth is complete after we visit the chamber of commerce, where we receive a free small plastic baggie full of impressive-looking black shark teeth.
Helping Kids Research Sharks
If you’re reading this article and have little ones (or even bigger ones) in your family who want to learn more about sharks, here are a few good links with a Florida angle:
–Mote Marine Laboratory (based in Sarasota) Center for Shark Research
–Florida Museum of Natural History’s Florida Program for Shark Research
–Florida Program for Shark Research, Just for Kids (kids can learn how to become a biologist, how to avoid a shark attack and play shark-themed games)
Tracking Florida Tourism—A Quick Side Note
Although this article focuses on shark teeth, I found it interesting to learn from Pierce that tourism activity in Venice is up this year compared to the same time last year. “The tourists are from all over the place—not just the Midwest but also Maine, Vermont, and upstate New York,” he says.
Pierce says the increase may be due in part to the somewhat warmer winter in the Sunshine State compared with last year—and the harsh winter experienced elsewhere in the country this year. Northerners are looking to escape from the snow. The tourism increase is also a positive in light of last year’s Gulf oil scare—“although we didn’t have even one drop of oil,” he says.
The only downside (from a tourism bureau business perspective) is the per room rate at various hotels throughout the Sarasota area and other resort cities in Florida such as Orlando, Pierce says. Although hotels are filling rooms, they’re filling them for lower rates.