Stevens: Finding sharks teeth a pleasant diversion

tstevens@newsobserver.comSeptember 13, 2012 

There must have been a lot of sharks millions of years ago with a lot of teeth.

If not, how do you explain the three zip-locked quart bags of fossilized shark’s teeth stored in my dresser?

Finding the shiny black teeth is a fun diversion, especially if the fish are not biting.

Beach trips used to be synonymous with fishing. Other folks might prefer lounging on the beach or reading on the porch, but throughout my youth my ideas about the ocean were centered around throwing a weighted line in the water and seeing what bit.

A dorky kid with glasses, I would wear a too-big, floppy hat that rested on my ears. The other fishermen around me had learned to relax while fishing, but I was intense, concentrating on the rod tip and looping the spinning reel line around my index finger in case there was a tug. Only a lightning-like reflect jerk would set the hook in my opinion although all around me fishermen had their rods in holders on the beach or resting in notches cut on the rails at the pier.

Many of my bites were imaginary as a wave slapped my line and I would wind in pell mell only to find the bait unmolested. My “wind to fish” ratio was something like eight to one, I guess, and Daddy sometimes complained that I was scraping the bait off and insisted I start buying my own shrimp. It was about 50 cents a pound.

A variety

The variety of fish in the ocean was fascinating. There were pompano, bluefish, croakers and spots, even an occasional black drum. Flounder and mullets were prizes. I still remember my first shark, a 12-inch “monster” complete with a mouthful of teeth.

Sharks were cool, but few things were more disappointing to a young fellow than thinking he had caught a big, fat flounder and realizing as it washed through the last few inches of foamy water that it was a skate or a stingray. Crabs were another disappointment. At least puffer fish were entertaining before they were returned to the sea.

The most entertaining shark I ever saw was a big hammerhead at the end of a pier at Atlantic Beach. The fish raised its head completely out of the water as it swam around the pilings. Eventually, it took a bait, dived and swam away, stripping the line until the fisherman tightened the drag and the line popped.

I had never heard of fossilized shark teeth when I was standing in ankle deep water while surf fishing at Topsail Beach in July 1977. What appeared to be a shiny, black tooth kept washing around my foot. The object almost formed a T and after watching it a few minutes, the tooth went into my pocket, the first of a collection that is now in the hundreds.

Thousands of teeth

I didn’t believe it was a shark’s tooth until I called the Museum of Natural History. A shark has several rows of teeth and can shed many thousands of teeth during its lifetime.

If a tooth falls to the seabed and is quickly buried, it might become fossilized in a few thousand years through a process called premineralization. Water seeps around the tooth and deposits minerals in open pores of the tooth. The minerals determine the fossilized color of the tooth. Most of mine are black.

My goal, along with essentially every other seeker of sharks teeth, is to find a megalodon tooth. Megalodons were the biggest sharks to ever live. They were 60 feet long (picture a six story building) and weighed 70 tons (picture 10 elephants). Megalodons died out about 2 million years ago after ruling the oceans for about 15 million years.

They had teeth up to a half foot long and chopping power estimated at between 10.8 and 18.2 tons. Today’s Great White Shark has a biting force of 1.8 tons.

And just like ocean fishing, when you’re looking for sharks teeth, you never know what you’re going to find. My biggest tooth is about 3 1/2 inches long and is black and blue with a light gray stripe. Finding that tooth was as exciting as the day when we were fishing in the sound and hung a 5-foot shark that gave us a good look before swimming away.

I thought it was great fun. Everybody else was mad. I wanted adventure. They wanted something to eat.

STEVENS: 919-829-8910

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service