Along the beaches in Sarasota County, they call it a Florida snow shovel. It’s a mesh scoop on the end of a stick that’s perfect for hunting teeth from prehistoric sharks the length of semi-trailers. You can rent one at the Venice Fishing Pier.
Florida, underwater for millions of years, never had dinosaurs, but it had the megalodon, the largest shark to ever live and possibly the fiercest predator in state history. You could call its chompers, viciously serrated and up to 7?½ inches long, the signature Florida fossil.
Megalodon went extinct about 2.6 million years ago, University of Florida researchers believe, but action star Jason Statham will battle one in The Meg, opening in theatres today. The movie, based on Florida author Steve Alten’s 1997 book Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, is an effects extravaganza in which an underwater research vessel encounters a not-extinct and very bloodthirsty megalodon.
The real megalodon was four or five times as big as the great white. It was probably a solitary hunter that preyed on whales and dugongs, similar to manatees. Like modern sharks, megalodons skeletons were made of cartilage, so all that’s left are teeth. They had hundreds of them in several rows.
Aristakat Charters is one of a handful of companies specializing in taking people down to “the bone yard,” a famously tooth-littered fossil bed 10 to 30 ft. underwater off Venice Beach.
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“It’s a thrill to know that something you found hasn’t been touched for millions of years,” Aristakat charter captain Jamie Bostwick said. “I’m really thinking this movie is going to spark interest for people who want to know more about megs. We already have a cult following of people who come here from around the world and dive for them every year, but this could be big.”
A small megalodon tooth is occasionally found on shore, but the bone yard is where people find prized four- to six-inchers that can be worth hundreds or thousands of dollars at Venice’s annual Shark’s Tooth Festival. State law requires a permit to take fossils from Florida waters or state-owned land, but shark teeth are exempt.
Florida’s other top spot for hunting megalodon teeth is the Peace River and its tributaries, running roughly 100 miles from Bartow to Port Charlotte, where guides help visitors wade into the water and walk along the banks in search of fossils.
Mark Renz, who runs Fossil Expeditions and wrote the nonfiction book Megalodon: Hunting the Hunter, said the river was a prehistoric nursery where young megalodons hunted before growing giant and migrating up the Eastern seaboard.
“The trailer’s a bit sensational, but that’s what it has to be,” he said of The Meg. “And any kind of publicity for the megalodon might help my business.”
Alten, who lives in West Palm Beach and published the first in what would become his series of Meg novels in 1997, said it has been a long road to the movie. He first optioned the rights in 1996, before the book even came out. He’s seen production fall through twice, before an eight-year effort got The Meg made with an estimated $ 150 million budget.
“Over that time, I’ve gotten to know this shark and this community. There are people who die for these teeth,” Alten said, referring to friend Vito Bertucci, a former Long Island jeweller who found some of the largest-known meg teeth before drowning in Georgia’s Ogeechee River in 2004.
Authorities found a bag of teeth with his body.