The Great Shark Tooth Hunt

“Hidden treasures — the best place to find shark teeth!”

“Look for shark teeth!”

“A great place to find shark teeth!”

These are all things you will read when researching a trip to Amelia Island, a barrier island on Florida’s Atlantic coast that’s spitting distance from Georgia. So when Husband and I went on vacation there last week, about the first thing we did was stroll out on the beach to take a walk and hunt for shark teeth. After all, they make it sound like Great White’s are swimming up and down the shore spitting out their teeth for tourists to scoop up and take home as souvenirs.

They lie.

Our first stroll on the beach yielded not even a molar. But it was early in our trip, and there were plenty of teeth just waiting to be found. I just knew it.

The next day I consulted our cabana boy (yes, we had a cabana boy!), a Jacksonville native whose grandparents lived on Amelia Island. “What’s the secret?” I asked him. “Oh, you’ll find plenty of them in ankle-deep water. Ankle deep. Where the waves drop the shells.”

He lied.

Husband and I spent the better part of the day wading around in ankle deep water. Not shin deep. Not wet sand. Ankle deep. Where the waves drop the shells. No teeth. Not a one. I did get a nice sunburn on my back.

And I noticed other tourists wading around in ankle-deep water, shoulders hunched, eyes scanning the surf for the elusive tooth. They’ve probably read the same literature I did. The literature that tells you how you’ll just find all the shark teeth at Amelia Island. Prehistoric shark teeth.

The literature lies.

It was along about this time that I started thinking the old saying should be “as scarce as shark’s teeth” not “hen’s teeth.” Forget needles. Were we looking for a “tooth in a shell stack?” Would we find a snipe before a cuspid?

You’d be surprised how, after a day and a half of scanning the surf, how every shell fragment looks like a tooth. I found about a million incisor-like shards, a piece of coral, a rock, and something I thought might be a shark vertebrae. They promise you that too — shark vertebrae.

A little more frustrated research led us the next day to Fort Clinch State Park. That’s where the St. Mary’s river meets the Atlantic. There’s a jetty full of little tidal pools where sea life frolics and plays and the waves wash in and out as the moon pulls the tides to and fro. Apparently that’s the money spot for shark teeth.

Or not.

Husband and I arrived at low tide and established our spot on the beach. We proceeded to clamber over and around the jetty and tidal pools searching, ever searching for that black nugget that had so eluded us. An older man, face brown and leathery, with a long beard and frayed swim trunks slipped through the rocks beside us. “Found any?” he asked.

I knew what “any” was. Shark teeth. “No,” I answered, “What’s the secret?”

“Luck,” he said before he walked on down the beach, back hunched over, eyes glued on the ankle-deep surf.

He wasn’t lying.

But luck wasn’t with us on this trip. Every day we were on the island, we walked up and down the beach looking, looking, looking. We dove after black triangular flashes only to be disappointed by just another random shell shard. But the thrill of the hunt kept us going.

Husband teased me about how mad I’d be if he found one first. I tried to feign frustration, but couldn’t help laughing. We walked for miles and miles and miles. And the hunt took us to places on the island we probably wouldn’t have otherwise sought out.

We didn’t find even one tiny tooth, but we did find a whole lot of fun, anticipation, and excitement in the hunt. We had a reason to explore. Something to talk about. A shared goal.

Maybe we did find the hidden treasure after all.

 

(Have you gotten your copy of my new book, They Call Me Orange Juice? If you’re in Birmingham, head over to Little Professor Book Center or Church Street Coffee & Books, and in Citronelle, you can get one at Jeanna’s Flower Shop. Or you can order your copy today!)