Peace River fossils (Florida)

I had heard about and seen many photos and videos from people who have hunted for fossilized shark teeth and other fossil remains in a certain river in Florida for a long time. A friend lives in southern Florida and threatened to drag us both out on the Peace River when I next visited him. We’ll, I’m here and we went directly from the airport in Ft. Myers, Florida to a launch ramp onto the Peace River. Jared had not ever been fossil hunting on this river before but being fascinated by the idea sure had been studying up on the how to’s and why for’s!

Unfortunately for us, my good friend Jared sometimes doesn’t have all the details worked out on our possible adventures; and I suppose that’s one reason we get along so well. His idea was to take his jet ski meant for open water use in the bays and the Gulf of Mexico out onto the Peace and use it to travel on and carry gear needed to find the fossils. Good idea, but for the current water level was really low. The gauging station he checked out online at a nearby spot showed the water level at .96 feet (that’s less than 12” of water, to you and me). what he didn’t know is that that was probably the highest level in the river at that location on that one day and NOT an indication of the general level of water all over the place…. Did I happen to mention that we’re in southern Florida, on an interior river, that’s well know for its alligator population?!

“Say hello to my little friend!” Sunning himself, lounging recklessly on the shore about 25’ away from us while we were eating lunch!

Oh yeah, fossils! We loaded up all the gear, shovels, screens for sifting gravel, hole filled scoopers, baggies, lunch goodies and drinks, rope, anchor for the jet ski, hats, gloves, Jared’s special fossil hunting – river walking boots, you name it, we had it. We got started okay and took off heading north, upstream, on the river noticing that it’s pretty shallow. I mentioned that we were heavily loaded all on one jet ski, two old men on it, tools sticking out all over… It got real shallow, real fast. Started running into sand bars all over the place, unable to find and follow any sort of river channel that m any show the deepest track of water to follow. Jared, being Jared, gunned the engine, got the ski to kind of go up in front (“on plane”) and we went way too fast over sand and tree limbs and all semblance of common sense. Not blaming him, I went along fully with this plan. Neither of us had ever done this type of fossil collecting nor been on this river. We saw some exposed gravel on the river banks in a couple of areas and limped over to the bank and shut the jet ski off. As luck would have it for us, that was just the sign we were looking for; gravel deposits that show the existence of the fossil layer of the Peace River Formation. We played around, started digging and sifting through the gravel and sifted the gravel and sand through our floating screens and be darned if we didn’t start finding fossil shark teeth! Not bad for a couple of raw amateurs on the river. We kept our heads on a swivel (alligators) for a good while as we waded in the river, dug down into the gravely sand layers and plopped down seated in the water to shake and sift our screens full of gravel looking for fossil teeth and other remains. Over time we became less concerned about the gators and had a blast looking and digging and talking as we tried to figure this whole thing out. We each started to find small shark teeth here and there and other fossil parts and pieces; things like mouth parts from sting rays, turtle shell fragments, fossil fish teeth, vertebra, all the while chatting about finding a massive fossilized Megalodon shark tooth.

Steve and Jared screening gravel looking for fossils.
Pay dirt; small fossilized teeth of various species of extinct shark.

We had a great day, with wonderful weather. Sunny and hot and felt great sitting the water. We moved around to two or three nearby spots on the river finding some teeth in each location. As it got later in the day we were both pretty spent from the day of prospecting so we loaded up the jet ski with all our gear and now we each had pockets full of fossils (rocks!) weighing us down even further. By this time we already “beached” the jet ski many times trying to get to the spot we settle on so when we started the jet ski up again to head back to the boat ramp where our car was parked, the jet ski basically said to us “no thank you.” The intake was so clogged with sand and gravel and crushed up seashells that it basically refused to go forward. With all the wet gear and fossils and wet clothes, we were sitting too low. It didn’t seem like we were going to be able to get the ski to go. We started pushing it along back toward where we came from this morning, going with the current, but not the prevailing wind and we weren’t making much headway at all constantly hitting the sandy bottom of the river and just being stuck. An air boat just happened by at that time and we sheepishly went over to them asking for some help. They kind of took over, we let them, and next thing I know all our gear and tools were in their air boat and they said “you come with us, he should be able to jet ski back with just one person on it and no gear…”. Doing as we were told, I jumped on their air boat, and Jared started up the ski and started following behind. We soon lost sight of Jared as the river took lots of curves and turns. This air boat I was on can go a million miles an hour down the river with that giant fan blade blowing backwards forcing the boat forward. But we were moving very slowly, the captain asking us to shift our weight this way then that as we encounter all kinds of low spots and tree limbs in the river. We didn’t fly down the river but at first I saw Jared puttering along behind us.

I got back to the ramp, the air boat captain and his two passages left, I sat. Realizing that I had no phone no money on me (locked in Jared’s car there at the ramp) and Jared had the keys to said car with him! I had no way to reach him, couldn’t recall his phone number so couldn’t borrow someone’s phone to try to reach him. So I just waited, and waited and waited some more. Meanwhile dusk is starting to arrive, you know, just when alligators start getting hungry and active on the river. I thought about trying to walk back the wall we just came from along the river, but canceled that. Here was Jared’s self portrait taken while sitting on the jet ski, “parked” in the middle of the river on a sand bar, unable to budge it at all, with alligators starting to swim by him on both sides!

Jared!

So lucky he still had a cell signal, so he called a tour boat place right at the ramp where we put in, where I was sitting, and they agreed to come save him. Hopefully to pick him up and tow back the jet ski. I’m really getting worried and not sure where to turn when I see an air boat rolling up on the river with Jared in the passenger seat! The air boat guys found him, all got in the river and with great effort pushed the stuck jet ski out and over to the nearby river bank where they tied it off and left it. As it happens, the tour boat people are also the big game hunting preserve people who own 2500 acres of fenced off land along the river where water Buffalo, red deer, and other exotic critters roam around waiting for hunters to show up? We jumped in our car and followed one of the guys driving a tractor about 3 miles back along the river on a sand trail, through several gates in 8’ high fencing to the spot where they had beached the ski. They used their tractor to pull the jet ski up and out on our trailer and we thought our adventure about done!

Remember the big game preserve? On our way crawling back out on the sand path, we naturally came face to face with a couple of big water buffalo! So if the snakes or alligators didn’t get us, maybe the African Buffalo could? They actually were just big sweeties; I’m guessing that if a guy had an apple you could have handed it right to these big water cows!

Fossils? Oh yeah, we actually did make it out and back home to Jared’s on Marco Island. Here’s a photo of my finds – mostly tiny shark teeth, but also some (sting) ray mouth parts, a fish scale, small fish vertebra, crocodile or alligator teeth, and some misc. fossil bone and turtle shell. We had an eventful and fun day, just like the old days with us two!