heatherwardtooth

Heather Ward, a James Island resident, said she found this shark tooth on Folly Beach on July 8. Holly Ward/Provided

Heather Ward walks the beach for "peace of mind and tranquility," she said, but on Sunday evening she found something even better: her biggest shark tooth yet, about the size of two quarters. 

Ward frequently strolls Folly Beach and over time has been able to hone her eye to pick up the angles and shapes that might betray a shark tooth, hidden in the sand. 

"I find the little ones all the time, but that big one was shocking," she said.

A few people have been reporting a larger than usual haul in the past few days, whether they find a particularly large tooth or as many as 169 smaller ones, like one visitor recently posted on the "I Love Folly Beach SC" Facebook page. 

Some believe that recent storm systems churning just off the Atlantic Coast have helped augment their finds. 

"Offshore storms make for great shark tooth hunting," one person wrote in the Charleston area's Reddit page. 

But does a storm system really bring more shark teeth to the shore? 

"I don't think it's necessarily depositing new shark teeth, but moving around sand on the beach and exposing teeth that are already there would be more likely," said Bryan Frazier, who studies sharks for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and also teaches at the College of Charleston. 

As Tropical Storm Chris swirled off the coast of the Carolinas, feeding on warm water in the Gulf Stream from Sunday through Tuesday, Charleston stayed dry for the most part. But the system did spark an elevated risk of rip currents and stronger shoreline currents. 

Paul Gayes, a coastal geologist at Coastal Carolina University, said that the increased wave action may indeed be eroding away lighter material on the beach, uncovering heavier shells and possibly fossils underneath.

The same process might uncover streaks of darker sand, Gayes said, which are actually mineral deposits that are heavier than other material on the beach. 

Though sharks teeth usually turn up black, not all are technically fossils, Gayes said — many simply came from animals in the area, instead of creatures like the Megalodon, a now-extinct species of giant shark that lived more than 20 million years ago. Its name literally means "big tooth."

Some of the teeth that have been uncovered could have been deposited on the beach in a renourishment project, which involves sucking sand from near-shore borrow sites after it's been eroded off the beach by storms.

Folly, where most recent tooth finds have been reported, faces significant erosion problems. Workers are laying pipe now to start the latest renourishment process, which will dredge the Folly River to place sand back on the beach.

Searching for sharks teeth and other shells during a beach renourishment project is "not a bad idea," Gayes said, though there's one sure spot where a braver adventurer might find a treasure to take home: the spoil piles around Charleston Harbor, where the Army Corps of Engineers dumps material from deepening projects.

"That’s where the big teeth are," he said.

Reach Chloe Johnson at 843-735-9985. Follow her on Twitter @_ChloeAJ.