“Jaws” has grossed more than $1.9 billion worldwide in adjusted-for-inflation figures, and still rivets film and video audiences 40 years after its initial release.
“Shark Week” has been an annual summer fixture since 1988, when its premiere altered the trajectory of Discovery Channel from a three-year-old cable entity that delivered limited-hours programming to 156,000 U.S. TV households to a cable giant that today reaches 409 million households around the world.
Even “Sharknado” has spawned sequels.
Clearly, sharks fascinate people. This, in part, explains the popularity of the Shark’s Tooth Festival every spring in the Gulf Coast city of Venice Florida. Venice, after all, is the Shark’s Tooth Capital of the World. Dedicated hobbyists and curious beachcombing vacationers come to Venice Municipal Beach year-round to collect prehistoric shark teeth and other fossils. In 1992 that pastime led to the first Venice Shark’s Tooth Festival, where collectors and artists market and display their wares.
The Shark’s Tooth Festival is also where people come to enjoy fresh food and live music and where they bring their kids to play games. The family fun further explains the popularity of the festival, which in 2015 is April 10-12. Venice is halfway between two great beach getaway vacation locales. It’s an hour south of St. Pete Beach-Holmes Beach area, and an hour north of Fort Myers Beach, which makes the Shark’s Tooth Festival an ideal family activity to enjoy on a weekend day trip. It’s the perfect vacation for shark lovers.
No Sharks, Just Teeth
Don’t come to the Venice Shark’s Tooth Festival expecting to take a shark tour or even to see live sharks, though. Sightings are rare these days in this part of the gulf. Modern sharks have vacated these waters, driven off by a variety of factors including human aggressors who hunt them to harvest their fins. (Statistically, sharks have more to fear from humans than we do from them.) But in prehistoric days, sharks were absolute rulers of the gulf and similar warm bodies of water—and you can find their teeth in Venice simply by combing through the high tideline debris at low tide. Look for pointed triangular objects. And if you can’t find them yourself, you’ll certainly be able to buy them from collectors at the festival.
The largest of these prehistoric predators was Megalodon, essentially the Tyrannosaurus rex of the sea. Four times the length of the modern great white shark, the largest Megalodon is believed to have been 70 feet long and weighed up to 48 tons. Its jaws are believed capable of swallowing whole objects as large as an adult hippo. But if the two species, millions of years apart in evolution, aren’t comparable in size, they’re more similar in disposition and aggressiveness. Megalodon was the most feared sea creature of the Miocene and Pilocene epochs of the Cenozoic Era, between 5 million and 23 million years ago. Some call this creature the megatooth shark. The teeth of this shark wash up on Venice beaches today along with the teeth from more contemporary species: great white, mako, hammerhead tiger shark, lemon shark, and countless more. Not every fossil is millions of years old, but most date at least thousands of years, given the length of the fossilization process.
How Do the Teeth Get There?
Every shark sheds hundreds of teeth every day over a lifetime. The detached teeth sink to the sea floor and are buried in sediment where the fossilization takes place. In the case of megalodon, the teeth—and in many cases, entire dead sharks—were submerged in sediment from the same geological event that, above the surface, formed the Appalachian Range. Over time the fossilized teeth became uncovered, rose to the shore and were whisked to dry land by the tide.
Learn More about the Shark Tooth Festival
They’ve become the central tourist attraction of Venice and the inspiration for an excellent annual festival that raises funds for a local charity serving Special Olympians. Admission in 2015 is just $3 per adult and free for children 12 and younger. You can enjoy musical entertainment of various genres almost from open to close each day of the festival. You can mingle with shark tooth collectors and sea-inspired artists from all over Florida while your children are engaged in organized and supervised games and activities. And of course you’ll be able to enjoy an assortment of seafood and other foods.
There’s also an annual 10K run in connection with the festival, but you’ll have to sign up well in advance. The race is so popular that registration closed for the 2015 event a month into preregistration because the field filled so quickly.
Whether you come to run, to spend time enjoying the unique camaraderie within the collector culture, or simply to score yourself a fossilized chomper of a multimillion-year-old megatooth, the Venice Shark’s Tooth festival is a fascinating vacation for shark lovers.