Sharks not only grow thousands of teeth in a lifetime, but they lose an impressive number of them, too. That’s good news for shark tooth hunters who haunt the shorelines in search of new additions for their cache of fossilized sea treasures.
With 2,876 miles of tidal coastline (beaches, rivers and creeks), South Carolina is a rich source of fossilized fang finds. Bull sharks, sand sharks, lemon sharks, reef sharks, great white and the prized megalodon all contribute to South Carolina’s favorite scavenger hunt. Many are hundreds of thousands of years old—one reason collecting shark teeth is such an interesting pastime.
Where and When to Look
Morning low tides are prime times to begin your hunt. If you head out early, you stand a better chance of beating the competition to the chase. Remember: Every 12 hours, the ocean gives up another batch of secrets. This is especially true on beaches where renourishment and dredging are underway. As the ocean floor is vacuumed, sand is stirred up and long-buried particles are carried by the currents and deposited on shore. The tide will eventually cover or carry away desirable tidbits, so don’t delay. Seek out batches of sediment, which are your best bet for discovering a treasure. When you find a pile of sea gravel, stand still and start sifting.
So, with so much coastline, where should you begin your hunt? Any place where the waves meet the sand is a good starting point. But you might increase the odds of adding to your collection by visiting stretches of shoreline known for an abundance of beachcombing gems. These five SC beaches are highly favored by the shark tooth-seeking crowd:
Insider tip: Begin at the east side of the pier between 5th and 2nd streets.
Cherry Grove Beach
Insider tip: Check out areas between Inlet Pointe Villas and the Cherry Grove Pier.
Insider tip: Search the shoreline at the South Edisto Inlet and by the groins lining each block on the beach.
Insider tip: Concentrate on the stretch between 10th Avenue South and 50th Avenue North.
Insider tip: Only accessible by water, this “shark tooth island” is just off Folly Beach. No boat? No problem. Contact a tour operation like Coastal Expeditions, which offers a Shark Tooth Beach Drop.
What to Look For
No special equipment beyond your eyes and hands is required, but a sifter makes a nifty tool for separating sand from debris. As you do so, keep your eyes peeled for triangular-shaped pieces that are jet black—a characteristic of fossilized shark teeth though “younger” teeth may be lighter-hued. The dark color of shark tooth fossils comes from a phosphorous sediment that adheres to the calcium-rich teeth as they linger on the ocean’s floor.
Though giant finds are thrilling, they are rare. Most shark teeth will be on the smaller side, but still make for exciting discoveries. If visions of that elusive megalodon are dancing in your head, your best chance for success is to sign up for a fossil hunt led by an expert. Some operations offering guided shark tooth hunting opportunities are Fossils Forever of Myrtle Beach, Palmetto Fossil Excursions, Charleston Fossil Adventures, Nature Adventures, and Coastal Expeditions.
Combing creeks and rivers
Waterways near fossil-bearing formations are another good source for shark teeth. But if you are interested in taking your hunt to tidal creeks and rivers, there are a few things to note before you head out.
“It is important to research if collecting fossils in your area is legal and, if so, what methods are legal for harvesting them,” said Michael Musick of Musick Fossil Adventures.
An experienced recreational fossil hunter who regularly combs Lowcountry waterways, he has acquired a stunning collection of shark toothies—legally, of course.
“In most places, it is illegal to dig into the banks of rivers and creeks because of erosion issues," Musick said. "Once you have researched, then try and find any small creeks or branches of the rivers and search for gravel beds in them. Those gravel beds will likely contain fossils.”
According to South Carolina regulation, you may collect a "reasonable amount" of fossil teeth above the low watermark. If you want to go below that, you will need a special hobby license. You can get more information and apply for a license through the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology.
If sifting the surf isn’t quite your style of shark tooth hunting, you can still take home a sweet find. Order one of Musick’s hand-poured shark tooth soy candles—light them up and see how many teeth you find as the candle burns down. Or visit the legendary Gay Dolphin Gift Cove in Myrtle Beach, where you’ll discover a dedicated shark tooth expert on-site. Take your pick of authentic shark tooth jewelry or bring your own acquisition to be fashioned into a necklace for a wearable souvenir.