Florida on a Tankful: Hunt for shark teeth on Caspersen Beach

By Virginia Johnson, Entertainment Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, December 14, 2017, 5:17 AM EST

It's late afternoon on Caspersen Beach in Venice.

The sun warms the breeze, and pelicans fly over the water.

But it's what's under the water that's capturing beach goers' attentions.

The Mcauliffe family—mom, dad and three kids-- is down visiting “Grandad Dan” Mcauliffe.

"We are hunting,” said Mcauliffe, as he scrapes an angled mesh scooper with a long metal handle along the top layers of sands and rocks and debris in the shallow surf.

He pulls it out of the water, dunks it a few times to rinse the sand out of it, and scoops out what’s left.

This is where the hunting and plundering the waters like pirates begins.

"She found the mother lode!” Mcauliffe said, smiling and pointing to his daughter-in-law.

Their booty: shark teeth.

It is the bounty of this beach.

“It's sort of fun to do it with the family --it's sort of a tradition we do," said granddaughter Shaley.

And there is a bonus for the kids.

"It gets them out in the sun and off the iPhones and the computers," said Mcauliffe.

"My grandad," said Shaley, “he’s an expert on shark’s teeth."

He’s not the only one, however.

Jeff Rodgers is the Provost and Chief Operating Officer of the South Florida Museum. Fossils are his thing.

"There's a deeper story than just the sharks’ teeth there. It's about the geologic history of our state, and the fact that it used to be mostly underwater and it was a shark nursery," said Rodgers.

So this area was a home for baby sharks for millions of years. Drink that in, people of Florida’s West Coast: where your condo is situated, a megalodon was raising her babies.

(That’s basically the prehistoric version of a great white shark.)

And over a lifetime, one shark loses thousands and thousands of teeth.

"Cut to today,” said Rodgers(no pun intended—seriously), “where now this is all land, but we've got the river systems running south towards Venice, so those rivers are continually unearthing new sharks teeth and washing them down where they're deposited down here on the shore."

In fact, the area the Peace River runs through before dumping out into Charlotte Harbor is called “Bone Valley,” according to Rodgers.

As an avid shark tooth hunter, I normally walk along the beaches just south of Caspersen, half hunched over checking the sand as the waves recede and looking right water line too.

I look for black, shiny triangular shapes—not flat across, but rounded, like your own teeth.

Sometimes you can find lighter colored teeth—brown and once in a while—even tannish. Those are like just a few million years old instead of 30.

Some are tiny and pointy like an Isosceles triangle. Others look like worn scalene or obtuse triangles, with a clear gum line. It’s pretty wild.

I’d never used a mesh scooper sifter before—I consider myself more of a purist.

(Once in a while after having kids I maybe used their little bright plaster sifter from their sand castle making toy kits, but never such an advanced apparatus.)

But after spending time with the Mcauliffe family, I decided whether by sight, kiddie sifter or mesh scooper, it doesn’t matter.

There were three generations of a family, all together, engaged in a free activities for hours, sharing and laughing.

Want to learn more about Capersen Beach Park? Visit http://www.visitsarasota.com/parks/caspersen-beach-park.