Millions of years ago, Florida had an amazingly diverse environment. Horses, camels, jaguars, mastodons and mammoths inhabited the land. The megalodon shark was clearly the king of Florida’s shallow warm waters. Fossils of all these animals can be found throughout Florida today.
Because of a lifelong fascination with sharks, I have always dreamed about finding my own megalodon fossil.
The megalodon was the size of two school buses aligned end to end. Its teeth typically are 3 to 7 inches long.
I set out to find my own part of “meg” history and drove five hours from the Florida Keys to Venice, which is known as the Shark Tooth Capital of the World.
If you are lucky, you can find meg teeth on the beach. However, diving greatly increases your chances because there are fewer divers than beachcombers.
Ten million years ago, Florida was completely under water. The waters were the hunting grounds for nearly every shark, especially the megalodon, which became extinct almost 2.6 million years ago.
The megalodon was an eating machine, feeding mainly on whales and seals.
Sharks naturally lose teeth while feeding but regenerate them. A megalodon has 276 teeth. One megalodon could lose more than 30,000 teeth in its lifetime.
Venice has five dive shops that specialize in megalodon tooth dives. Aquanauts and Top2BottomCharters are the most popular.
From the perspective of a Keys diver, my dive in Venice was the least visibly appealing one I have done. My only dives worse than this were my certification dives at a snow-lined quarry in Beloit, Wisconsin, nearly 30 years ago.
This is a three-tank dive with three hours of bottom time. The water was warm, but filled with the same silt and sediment that carry the shark fossils along the ocean floor to the beach.
Once on the bottom, searching for teeth is basically the same as beachcombing, except you are searching horizontally.
These dives were in 20 feet of water. Visibility was so bad I couldn’t see the bottom until it was right in my face.
It was impossible to see other divers through the murky water, sort of violating the common rule against diving alone.
I was the only beginner fossil collector on this trip. Everyone else was a paleontologist or wannabe paleontologist. Their ability to find teeth often partially covered in sand and shells was amazing.
Blair Morrow, the boat captain and divemaster at Aquanauts, started each dive with the simple order, “Go find triangles!”
In her years at Aquanauts working with owner Mike Konecnik, they have accumulated large megalodon collections and have found unique fossils.
Mike found three 6-inch megalodon teeth, a mastodon skull with teeth, two mammoth skulls with teeth and jaws.
In 2021, Blair found a 6-inch meg tooth and an 8-foot section of mammoth tusk to add to her collection.
Blair has turned her passion for collecting meg teeth into an art business, Meg Goddess Designs, integrating the teeth she finds into works of art.
Jamie Harris, a clerk with the U.S. Postal Service in Cape Coral, is a regular shark tooth diver who gives many of her finds to friends and family.
She returns for the thrill of the hunt.
“One of my favorite things to find outside of shark teeth is glyptodont material,” Jamie says. “It was a wild armadillo the size of a VW Bug that once roamed the earth. I love finding a piece of history.”
The day I dove with Jamie, she found more than 20 megalodon teeth.
After coming up empty on my initial dives, I questioned whether we were all diving in the same ocean. It took several dives, but I finally fulfilled my tooth-finding quest, picking up a 4-inch beauty.
I also found lemon and mako shark teeth fossils and the rib bone of a dugong—a manatee-like creature that inhabited Florida waters millions of years ago. Today, they are only found in the Indian and Pacific oceans.
Although not required, fossil collectors in Florida are encouraged to buy a Florida Fossil Collecting Permit online for $5 from the University of Florida Natural History Museum in Gainesville.
“Each trip is like a treasure hunt,” says Steve Scott, a retired teacher living in Arizona. “You never know what you or the other divers will find.”
He regularly vacations in Venice, logging more than 325 megalodon tooth dives.
The teeth I observed each had their own quirks. Many are different colors based primarily on the type of sediment the tooth fell into millions of years ago. Mine was brown and beige because it spent so much time in clay-like sediment. Many are black, and some have barnacles growing on them.
After experiencing the thrill of finding a megalodon tooth myself, it’s hard to describe the feeling of holding a piece of the Earth’s past that has never been in human hands.
The tooth I found may deserve a name. “MegaloDan” is under consideration.