I'm excited to break the mold of trip reports today. I often journal about my mountaineering experiences in Southern California, partly because that's my home base, but mostly by design because it's my favorite activity. I wasn't always into rock climbing and peak bagging. In fact, a large part of my adolescence was in Florida, which I think is the flattest part of the Earth! What Florida lacks in topography it makes up for in beautiful beaches. Dare I say it, but I believe the BEST beaches, yes, better than California, and even better than Hawaii (and I've been around them all). Maybe not the best surfing in the USA, but the most beautiful, especially Siesta Key Beach, which was my backyard in high school and ranked #1 beach in the country, see here.
I don't want to digress with beach competitions, but Summer is in full swing and the beach is the place to be. Growing up in Sarasota you gain some immunity to the heat, I'm out here in mid August and that's definitely not the tourist season like December. I always heard about "The Shark Tooth Beach" as a kid, but oddly never made it out. Venice is an adjacent county to Sarasota, and only a 20-30 minute drive and I just never went! Now is the time, next stop Caspersen Beach!
Caspersen Beach is one of the most enjoyable shelling beaches in the area and an excellent spot to find prehistoric shark teeth. There are nature trails traveling through freshwater and saltwater marshes, mangrove areas, and tidal flats, and excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing. We even saw a huge sea turtle right after parking, we barely left the parking lot and bam, a big 'ol guy!
I did some quick internet research to see what I would even be looking for, as well as any pro-tips out there. The major takeaways are: Get a sand sifter, go early, walk out past the people, and most importantly BE DILIGENT! There are many types of shark teeth fossils, below is a diagram of what is commonly found at Caspersen Beach in Venice (courtesy of FossilGuy.com):
To be honest, we only half prepared. We got the sand sifter tools, one can rent them at the bait shop on the Venice Pier for $5/day, or you can buy them at the Venice Walmart for $16.95. This tool is not mandatory, it is said that fossils even wash up right on shore, but for $5 it's worth it! We rented 3, one for each of us, but we didn't exactly dress for the occasion. We thought it would be a little more of a shoreline chore, but by the end of the hunt we were fully in the water. Hey, no big deal, if you're not doing it right, at least look good doing it! Ha!
Large Dunkin' Donuts iced coffee is part of your fossil hunting kit, don't forget this. However, if we did this adventure again, we would opt for swimwear. Those Mega Megalodon Megashark teeth are really found diving, not shelling, and they sell for hundreds of dollars in the local tourist shops, but many of the other fossils on the diagram are abound without scuba gear.
Here's a view of the beach upon our arrival. It was maybe 9am on a Monday, nice look for us! There was hardly anyone there. Caspersen Beach isn't really the lounge and relax beach, it has a short shore and is rather rocky. It's better for fishing, shelling and hiking. There were only 2 people in sight, a very old senior couple (which means average age in Florida). She was fishing and he was hunting for fossils, looked like they did this everyday. We walked out at least a half mile until we were a little off the beaten path, this was suggested to review shells that might not be particularly picked over.
Above is a photo of the sand sifter, it's just a basket with a 1/4" strainer fencing around it. You scoop the shells up and wash the sand out, easy, the question is WHERE?!
We started by keeping dry and checking on the shore break. It was high tide, which is bad for bringing the shells back, but good for bringing them in, not sure. Fossil Guy says to hunt in low tide, the old man who looked like a daily hunter said high tide was good too, just be committed!
Our technique at first was to dig into the little ridge and scoop slightly under the sand, this was recommended by the man who rented us the sifters. The fossils are to be found under the sand.
Here's what a scoop of shells looks like after you sift out the sand.
The shark teeth are black, so that's what you zero in on first. It's almost dizzying looking at the shells and trying to decipher for the fossils. The shells are so small and there's so many. It's better to grab a smaller scoop and really look it all over. The challenge is with your eyes not your muscles. You must look closely. We wondered how many teeth we didn't even see and dumped back in the water, a funny idea.
Above is a close up of a tooth in the basket, you can see how camouflaged they are!
At this point we had found a couple and the hunt was on! We were in deep, we're out passed the ridge, off the shore and scooping waist deep for teeth. We're trying every strategy, looking deep, shallow, left, right, constantly switching up our techniques.
We spent a couple hours out there. I love treasure hunting. I've never had a metal detector or scuba dived into a sunken ship, or panned for gold, but I imagine I would fall in love with these activities. Heck I even like garage sales and thrift shops, the thrill of the chase, the adrenaline of the hunt, the concept of buried goods, I love it!!
By now we're starting to crack out. We're competing for who can find the most, who can find the biggest, it was hilarious. We had poker faces not telling each other what we found. It was hilarious, the longer we looked, the less we found. The less we found the more we WANTED to find them. Made me understand the old man and wife who looked to be there everyday for 65 years. One is too many and a million isn't enough! We looked crazy, the afternoon was approaching and "regular" beach goers started showing up. They must have wondered who the fully dressed freaks with baskets were and what they wanted.
The heat was on and we were satisfied without being greedy, we had quite the bounty!
Check out our cumulative haul, not bad for 3 first timers!
We had a blast, definitely an adventure. It didn't have to share the inherent risk of alpine climbing or the endurance of high altitude backpacking to be fun. It held something more important, it was a family experience, a new unknown shared with the people you love the most. This is adventure in it's purest form, and sharing it with your loved ones was the true treasure!
We had a few other adventures while in Florida, some kayaking on the Sarasota Bay, some stand up paddle boarding on Siesta Key Beach's Gulf of Mexico and lots of ice cream and iced coffee, but fossil hunting was truly unique.