by Jim Morekis
Photo by Shawn Heifert
Every week is Shark Week for fossil diver Bill Eberlein. We’re all lucky to enjoy Savannah while it’s on dry land. Throughout earth’s history, this entire region’s been underwater much longer than it’s been above it. Bill Eberlein knows this better than most. After a successful career at Gulfstream and Savannah Tech, he decided to go full–time with his real passion: scuba diving. Not the crystal–clear, sun–dappled diving we know from the movies, where colorful fish swim by and gold coins await in plain view. Eberlein dives in the muddy, sediment–filled rivers of the coast, seeking a different kind of buried treasure: prehistoric shark teeth.
“Scientists say that for about eight million years, these enormous sharks roamed the waters all around here,” the Richmond Hill resident and Erie, Pa., native says. “And of course, being sharks, their teeth were constantly falling out. Sharks go through many sets of teeth in their lifetimes. So for millions of years they literally swam around losing their teeth.”
The end result is shark teeth still available down there by the millions for anyone with the tenacity and bravery — or is it foolhardiness? — to find them. “People don’t realize that diving in these rivers, there’s basically zero visibility. You have to sort of dig around with your hands,” Eberlein says. “There are strong tides and currents, and there are things that literally bump into you — sometimes large things — and you don’t always know what they are.”
Eberlein says he’s often accidentally grabbed or even kneeled on a stingray. He’s been bumped by alligators. “It’s not like diving in Florida or the Bahamas,” he says. “It’s pretty intense.” Eberlein finds all kinds of prehistoric remains down there, from ribs to vertebrae to remains of mammoths that walked here during one of many Ice Ages. But the booty he seeks most is prehistoric shark’s teeth — especially the hand–sized teeth of the massive Megalodon species, which dominated these waters until about two million years ago. “Imagine a shark as big as the biggest whale today, and then imagine a bunch of sharp six–inch teeth sticking out of his mouth,” he says. “That’s Megalodon.”
Eberlein does sell the teeth, whether plain or in jewelry form, through his website www.megateeth.com. (While no doubt many people might object to him reaping this bounty of artifacts, rest assured your friendly neighborhood Corps of Engineers maintenance dredging disturbs far more fossils than Eberlein could in decades of diving.)
While he makes his living diving, Eberlein says he does it mostly for the pleasure it brings. “Diving is one of the best experiences you can have, because you get to go into this unexplored universe that covers three quarters of our planet. You never know what you’re going to find.” And people love what he finds, especially those huge Megalodon choppers. “Kids, if they’re into science at all, really like dinosaurs and sharks. This is kind of a little of both. They’re holding real history in their hands,” he says. “They’re probably the second person ever to touch something that’s millions of years old. Every one of these teeth I found personally in the Savannah area. They’re not made in China!”
Bill Eberlein’s discoveries are for sale at www.megateeth.com and at First Fridays on River Street. To see them on display, visit the The Plunder Box in Midway, Ga. or Down Younder in Pooler.