Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

It's a Hobby with Bite; Sharks' Teeth Fossils Are Prized

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

It's a Hobby with Bite; Sharks' Teeth Fossils Are Prized

Article excerpt

Byline: Christopher F. Aguilar, Shorelines staff writer

Ponte Vedra Beach resident Angela Saunders recently hit the sharks' teeth jackpot on a patch of beach just south of Corona Road. She found 200.

"If you bent down to pick one up, you saw three or four," she said. "To me, it was fate."

Saunders' good fortune continued a couple days later when she found another 150 or so sharks' teeth near the Solana Road beach access.

"I was like, 'Finally, I'm in paradise,' and I felt like I belonged in paradise," she said.

But Saunders isn't the only person to find coveted sharks' teeth on the sandy shores of Ponte Vedra Beach. In June, 6-year-old Ryley Settles found a 1 3/4-inch shark's tooth while on the beach with her mom and two siblings.

Ryley was throwing a fish skin back into the ocean when she looked down and found the fossilized tooth. Ryley and her parents have about 500 sharks' teeth that they've found in the past six years. They keep them in boxes and jars. The Settleses also have purchased books and a postcard that identify each type of shark's tooth.

"People are fascinated by it," Kathy Settles said. "It's exciting for people that come here to find sharks' teeth."

Sharks' teeth, along with other animal fossils, wash up on Florida's shores and are prized by fossil hunters from Nassau County to Jacksonville's Beaches down to St. Augustine. Internet sites and books can teach beginners how to identify sharks' teeth and other fossils. Sharks' teeth that are well preserved can fetch a few thousand dollars on the collectors market.

"It's a huge collectible, and there's a huge market," said Walter Hunt, who owns Hunt Fossils Art and Artifacts in Fernandina Beach. "They are like stamps. The colors, shape and size, all have something to do with the valuation. But there is a misconception that the darker the tooth, the older it is."

Hunt found his first shark's tooth when he visited Ponte Vedra Beach as a child. Finding the tooth started Hunt on a hobby that would become a career.

For millions of years, sharks have roamed the seas hunting for prey. Their rows of teeth, used to eat or to fight off enemies, are discarded as they grow. New rows gradually move forward as previous ones are lost.

"Sharks' teeth are found worldwide," Hunt said. "One shark can lose 20,000 teeth in a lifetime."

The biggest prize for sharks' teeth hunters is a Megalodon tooth. The Megalodon shark is considered to be an extinct version of the great white shark. Fossilized Megalodon teeth up to 6 1/2 inches long have been found in Europe, India, Oceania, North America and South America.

"This shark ruled the world," Hunt said.

Hunt said only 25 Megalodon teeth have been found. Recently, a 6 3/4-inch Megalodon shark tooth found in Chile fetched $8,000, he said.

"It was drop dead gorgeous," Hunt said. "It was perfect, not a nick on it anywhere. It was bright yellow, brilliant colors and sharp."

Quinton White, a professor of biology and marine science at Jacksonville University, said sharks' teeth fossilize when the calcium is replaced by dark mineral.

He also said people can tell how large the shark was by the size of the tooth.

"The rule of thumb is the shark was at least 10 feet long for every inch of tooth," White said.

Hunt said the sharks' teeth found in Florida can be between 2 and 20 million years old.

But sharks' teeth aren't restricted to coastal areas. Hunt has found sharks' teeth in the Moroccan desert.

He said hunters, the name for people who search for sharks' teeth, have found teeth as far inland as Topeka, Kan., and in Aurora, N.C.

For sharks' teeth hunters, Ponte Vedra Beach is known for the number of teeth that wash up on its shores.

White said water currents, wave action after a storm and beach renourishment projects add to the number of sharks' teeth that show up in the sand. …

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