Opportunities don't happen. You create them.
It’s hard to believe that a month has already flown by since our first Coastal Fossil Hunt of the year took place. This is one of my favorite trips as I get in touch with my inner 5 year-old who wanted to be a paleontologist after watching Jurassic Park. Throw on top of that a love for the ocean and spending time on the beach and you have the set up for Captain Zach’s Perfect Day.
I’ll admit when I started investigating possible trips for this company last Spring, fossil hunts were not at the top of my list. It was only when I started following a couple fossil hunters who live down around Charleston that were constantly pulling Megalodon teeth that I thought “Maybe there’s something here.” So I began looking into local Captains who ran beach drops and headed down to the Lowcountry one day in the Summer. Now it had been a LONG time since I last went fossil hunting. While I was in college at the University of Florida there was a small creek not far from where I lived that a friend had introduced me to the past time. Once I began finding teeth in this tiny creek in the middle of Florida, I was hooked. Still the best find I have ever had from those outings is a whale vertebra the size of my fist! Remembering how much fun I had doing this in college, I decided to do some homework and see if the gamble was worth it.
Back in Charleston I met my Captain at Folly Beach and he ferried me out to Morris Island, an uninhabited island at the mouth of Charleston Harbor that is the site of a Civil War battle. If you know your history the battle that took place saw the Union led by the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, America's first all black soldier unit, attempt to take Fort Wagner held by the Confederates with the aim to take Charleston Harbor. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Glory,” starring Matthew Broderick & Denzel Washington, the final battle in the film is the one that took place on Morris Island. So not only did I have a chance to find some fossils, but there was also the prospect of finding Civil War artifacts.
We get to the island and the Captain hands me a radio and tells me to stay close to the water line as the tide goes out because that’s where I’ll find the teeth and that I have 4 hours. Off I went. Now while the island is uninhabited it is a big hangout spot for boaters as well as other tour operators will drop their clients there too, so you’re not feeling like Tom Hanks in Castaway befriending washed up volleyballs. After an afternoon combing the sands, I managed to find a good haul of teeth & beach treasures and that told me that this is a trip worth trying. We held our first Coastal Fossil Hunt last October and we managed to pull in over 250 teeth!
Fast-forward to last month and I was full of excitemet, some anxiety, and a hunger for adventure to bring my 2nd group out to Morris Island at another attempt to have folks walk home with buried treasure. We all met at the Shem Creek Boardwalk and got picked up to head on out to the island. Some of our group had fossil hunting experience with a few Megalodon teeth to prove while others it was their first time. One person had never found a shark's tooth in all of her years visiting the beach, so she was very hopeful to get her first tooth as well as have her son find some teeth to take home. Now the ride out to the island was a little rough, I have to admit. Sadly one side of the boat was stuck in the splash zone as if they were at SeaWorld, but we eventually made it through the rough waters to our drop point.
Once we got on the beach I explained to everyone what to look for by providing a few examples of teeth I had collected over the years. Typically with shark teeth, they become this shiny slate-gray color as they fossilize. You also want to look for triangles when you’re fossil hunting. The best way to find them is to find areas with heavy shell deposits. Teeth are usually found with them and they stick out like a sore thumb, once you know what to look for ;).
Something I’ve learned guiding these fossil hunts, it can be a bit like herding cats. Depending on how many groups are in your party, you can have 1 group of 6 or 6 groups of 1, people tend to move at their own pace. No judgement here, however it’s my job to get everyone to the hotspots and I want everyone to walk away from these hunts with at least one big tooth. Now about half way to the good stretch of beach, my one client who had never found a sharks tooth before, flagged me down and held out this tiny black object in her hand. “Is this a Shark Tooth?” she asked. Before I could finish my sentence to confirm that she had indeed found a shark tooth, she had a smile about as wide as Charleston Harbor. It’s when people have moments like that that confirm to me I’m on the right path.
We spent the rest of the afternoon combing the sands. Usually when I find teeth, I’ll hand them to folks who are searching, or I’ll drop them in open pockets of sand a few yards ahead of where people are searching. Sometimes I’ll find them and call my clients over and point out a general area where I see a tooth and let them find it. There’s something just so satisfying when you find a treasure like a sharks tooth or a sand dollar rather than being given one.
I meant to take photos while we were out, but I had just too good of a time combing the sands helping my clients find teeth. Among our treasures found, we had plenty of shark teeth, fossilized bone fragments, sand dollars, shark vertebra, a plethora of shells, and a find too good I had to keep for myself: a partial vertebra to an ancient billfish, like Marlin or Swordfish! When I first found it, I thought it was a claw but after consulting a local fossil hunting group, they confirmed to me that is was a vertebra fragment. About halfway into our hunt a storm rolled through Charleston and looked like it was going to hit the island. Normally if I was alone I totally would have stuck it out despite the lack of shelter, however being that I was responsible for people and I could see everyone getting a little anxious we called it early. Everyone was all smiles as we got back on the boat and made our way to the dock. The great thing about Carolina Safari Co.’s fossil hunts is that we get to do them 4 times a year. Until next time, I’ll see y’all out there.