By Dalia Colón
For a family vacation that takes a bite out of adventure, head to Caspersen Beach.
Located about 25 miles south of Sarasota in the coastal town of Venice, Caspersen Beach is one of the best places in Florida—and on the planet, really—for finding shark teeth.
In fact, the off-the-beaten-path beach on the Sunshine State’s Gulf Coast has earned the nickname the Shark Tooth Capital of the World.
What to expect
I recently ventured to Caspersen with my husband and our kids, ages 5 and 9. Among my family’s favorite beaches are Fort DeSoto Park in Pinellas County and Anna Maria Island in Manatee County, both known for their sugary-soft sand and relatively calm waters.
Expecting Caspersen Beach to be similar, I’d packed all our usual beach gear: dinner, beach blanket, chairs, sand toys—even a book to read as I lounged.
We quickly realized that we’d be leaving most of this paraphernalia in the car.
“It’s not that kind of beach,” my husband and I kept repeating to the kids.
With strong waves, rocks that peek out from the water’s surface and a narrow strip of rough sand, Caspersen isn’t an ideal beach for building sandcastles or lounging with a novel. (For that, head to one of these Sarasota-area beaches.) But its unique conditions are precisely what makes Caspersen a gold mine for finding shark’s teeth.
“The Gulf waters at Caspersen Beach [have] converging currents that deposit various sediments on the shallow areas along the beach,” said Nate Sweetman, communications and public relations coordinator for Visit Sarasota County. “At low tide, and particularly after a storm, the receding waters leave behind shells, small rocks and a surprising number of fossilized shark’s teeth.”
Fun fact: Sharks have multiple rows of teeth, adding up to hundreds of teeth in their mouths at any given time. To ensure that they always have sharp teeth to catch prey, the animals constantly shed and regrow teeth. In a lifetime, a shark can have 25,000 to 35,000 teeth. All that’s to say, there are plenty of shark teeth just waiting to be discovered at Caspersen Beach.
Know how to find shark teeth
My family spent the first part of our visit searching for what we think of as teeth—small, pearly objects, like what kids leave under their pillow for the Tooth Fairy. So we couldn’t understand why we weren’t finding any shark teeth on the beach.
Turns out, shark teeth look different.
“Their fossilized teeth are distinctly triangular with one long point and two shorter points at the thicker base,” Sweetman notes. “They look black/gray, not white.”
On my family’s visit to Caspersen Beach, two strangers gifted my kids shark teeth from their impressive stash. They told us we’d have an easier time finding shark teeth if we could see what we were looking for, and they were right. (If you aren’t lucky enough to benefit the kindness of strangers, then I’d suggest pulling up a photo of shark teeth on your phone, so you can keep your eyes on the prize.)
In no time, my family found tiny black triangles aplenty. In the pursuit of shark teeth, there’s no need to search the sand with a fine-tooth comb.
Tips for finding shark teeth at Caspersen Beach
- Know what you’re looking for. Shark teeth are smaller and darker than you might expect.
- Don’t be fooled. At first glance, fossilized stingray dental plates look similar. But shark teeth are shinier and more triangular.
- You can find shark’s teeth year-round. The best time to go is during low tide or after a storm.
- Stick to the shoreline or wet sand, where shells and shark teeth accumulate.
- This experience is best for families with older kids. My 5-year-old son got antsy after about 15 minutes of searching, but my 9-year-old daughter wanted to spend the rest of the evening searching for teeth.
- Know before you go: Caspersen Beach has no lifeguards on duty. Parking, restrooms and outdoor showers are easily accessible from the beach. Other amenities include a boardwalk, picnic area, small playground and nature trail.
What to bring
- Small shovel or sand scoop
- Mesh bag, colander or other tool for sifting
- Empty water bottle, sandwich bag or other small container to store shark teeth
- Real water shoes that will protect your feet from stepping on rocks, shells and of course shark teeth
What not to bring
- Beach chairs
- Elaborate meals
- Lots of sand toys
- Flip flops — they’ll float away.
While you’re in the area, check out these points of interest.
Shark Frenzy: This Venice shop is the go-to place to see impressive fossils on display, ask shark-related questions to the knowledgeable staff and buy any last-minute beach equipment you may need. The store even sells its own patented shark tooth sifter.
Venice MainStreet: Explore the town’s hub for shopping, restaurants and entertainment. Don’t miss the bimonthly Friday Night Concert Series; the alfresco event is free and open to the public.
Pinchers Restaurant: A trip to the beach calls for seafood. Head to this Florida-style seafood joint that offers something for appetites of all ages, from shrimp tacos to grouper nuggets. Save room for key lime pie.
Detwiler’s Farm Market: Grab no-fuss subs and ice cream cones at this family-owned grocery store that’s popular with locals for its fresh produce and baked goods.
Venice Theatre: Catch a community production of a play or musical at this theater that’s been operating since the 1950s.
Venice Area Audubon Rookery: Nature photographers flock to this wildlife preserve, where you can expect to see egrets, herons, ibises and countless other Florida fauna. While you’re there, enjoy a peaceful picnic at the lake. Don’t forget to bring binoculars.
Ideal Classic Cars: Part museum, part dealership, this building features an impressive fleet of classic autos. The public is welcome to visit for free, so stop by to take photos in front of your dream car. There’s even a gift shop.
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium: Located in Sarasota, this aquarium is about an hour’s drive north of Caspersen Beach. But for avid selachimorphaphiles, it’s a must-visit. Come nose-to-nose with sea life in the Shark Zone. You’ll also see manatees, otters, turtles and other Florida wildlife. Through Aug. 7, 2022, you can also view a shark-themed photo exhibition by award-winning photographer Brian Skerry.