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Blackwater Diving in South Carolina

Blackwater Diving in South Carolina

Blackwater Fossil Diving


Video: Blackwater diving the Cooper River

The Cooper River is a great place to dive for fossil megalodon shark teeth.

The Cooper River is a great place to dive for fossil megalodon shark teeth.

Black Water Diving in the Cooper River for Fossil Megalodon Shark Teeth

This small alligator is crusing the river.

This small alligator is crusing the river.

Black water diving for fossils in the low country of South Carolina is not for the faint of heart. Sunlight can only penetrate 10 or so feet into the tannin colored rivers. After that depth, it's PITCH BLACK. A dive light only illuminates a narrow brown beam a few inches wide and about a foot in front you. The tidal currents can become strong, dragging and tumbling an improperly weighted diver along the river bottom into sunken trees. Fish, some quite large, also not being able to see, bump into you. In the back of your mind you think they are the alligators that live here. Actually, since you can't really see, and the bumps are fleeting, you can't actually tell what is running into you. Maybe it's just a tree branch, or a mud ball tumbling down the river.

Here, I am getting ready to descend into the Cooper River in search of Fossils.

Here, I am getting ready to descend into the Cooper River in search of Fossils

Why would one subject oneself to this madness?? One word... FOSSILS! Yes, to Crazy fossil and artifact hunters, black water diving in South Carolina is a dream come true. Fossils and artifacts erode from the river banks and accumulate along underwater gravel beds strewn about the river bottom anywhere from 20 to 50 feet below. Many of the fossils are fossil shark teeth, including the famous Megalodon shark, and its predecessors. If you want to find a fossil megalodon shark tooth, this is one of the best places on earth to find one!

I found myself in South Carolina for a few days. This was a perfect opportunity to do some blackwater fossil diving. I made some tentative plans for Amy and I to go out with a charter. Unfortunately, a few days before the charter, the other group of divers that would have filled the boat for a charter cancelled. Already in South Carolina, with full dive gear and hobby licenses, we were left high and dry with no way to get to the fossil spots! Luckily, I spoke with another charter operator and he agreed to take us on an impromptu charter to some gravel beds in a day.

On the day of the charter, we arrived, ogled at his fossil and artifact collection, then loaded the boat with all the dive equipment and the extra blackwater equipment. For blackwater diving, you need MUCH more weight than normal, so you sink like a rock and don't get carried away by the current. You need screwdrivers to stab into the river bottom. Sometimes the current gets so strong stabbing screwdrivers into the river bottom and pulling yourself along (kind of like ice climbing) is the only way to successfully move. I also like to have a rake to get into the gravel, and powerful dive light is a must.

After boating to the dive spot, we geared up jumped in. I prefer to descend along the anchor line, that way I know where I am relative to the boat when I hit bottom. Sinking into the darkness to the river bottom, an unknown depth below, I had my screwdriver in hand, ready to stab into the river bed upon impact. After about 15 feet, the rays of sunlight stopped penetrating the water. It was pitch black. I turned the dive light on; it projected a narrow beam of light about 8 inches in front of me. This would be my universe for the next hour, a tiny 3 inch by 8 inch tube of brown light with blackness all around. Hopefully it would illuminate a hidden fossil megalodon shark tooth!

This shows the only light at the bottom of the river. A little beam.

This shows the only light at the bottom of the river. A little beam.

This is a gravel bed at the bottom of the river. Shark Teeth Fossils are found scattered through it.

This is a gravel bed at the bottom of the river. Shark Teeth Fossils are found scattered through it.

My left flipper was the first to hit bottom. My right flipper never hit. "I must be on one of the many submerged trees." I thought. Pushing off the tree, I continued downward until both flippers hit. I then hunched over to stab the screwdriver into the ground, when I felt a tug on my bag to put fossils in. It must be caught on a tree branch. Letting go of the anchor line, I reached out and pointed my light toward where I felt the tug. A 3 x 8 inch section of tree appeared out of the blackness. Feeling around, I un snagged the bag, and immediately shot downstream with the current until my shoulder hit another tree. Spinning around, I quickly oriented so I was facing the bottom, stabbed the sandy bottom with my screwdriver and hung on.

Whew! I made it to the bottom, albeit in the middle of a bunch of trees. Hearing taps from Amy (we have an underwater Morse code system). I knew she was somewhere on the bottom also. Working my way back upstream to the anchor line, and shining my light in all directions, illuminating the 3x8 inches of light all around me, I didn't see anything, just brown water and parts of trees. I re-found the anchor line, and followed it till I hit a hand. She was only 3 feet in front of me the whole time, but because of the visibility it could have been a mile. Once we found each other, we squinted at our gauges with our tiny beams of light to double check them. We hunkered down, oriented ourselves against the current, and proceeded to the gravel beds which were suppose to be upstream and to the right of the boat.

Amy gets very disoriented in the blackness, so I take her to the gravel spots. Slowly kicking and pulling with the screwdrivers, we crawled over and bumped into numerous trees (I hope they were trees). After making it about 50 yards, we hit gravel. Now the tiny 3x8 inch beam of light, which was our universe in the black abyss, would be concentrated on the gravel. We fanned, raked, and crawled among the gravel bar, uncovering fossils for about 40 minutes until our air supply started running low. Most of the fossils were broken shark teeth. My highlight was finding a C. auriculatus tooth. It was worn and small, but I've never found one before. Amy tended to get sidetracked playing with little flounder, shrimp, and crabs that would come into her little light beam.

When our air was almost up, we slightly filled our BCD's, stood, then jumped and let the current take us. The gauge read 35 feet, 30 feet, 25 feet, at around 15 feet, a faint brown glow was above us. This must be the surface. I could soon make out shadows. I could see my arm, my dive light, my gauges. Finally, I broke the surface and was blinded by the bright sunlight. Quickly scanning for our boat, we kicked toward it, aligning ourselves so we would drift into it. Our blackwater dive was over and we were successful.

These are some of the fossils found while diving.

These are some of the fossils found while diving.

We did two other dives that day. They were much less successful. The second dive, soon after I made it to the gravel beds, my dive light died (mental note: check batteries between dives). I had to return to the boat. On the third dive, the current was picking up and we tried a new spot where the gravel beds were intermittent. It took most of the dive just to find a gravel bed. We were huffing and puffing, nearly out of breath fighting the current. By time we found a spot that looked like it would be productive, our tanks were running low, and we had to surface. That's what blackwater diving is like though, the gravel beds constantly shift and move, they get covered and different ones get uncovered. It's hit or miss, but when you hit and find a large megalodon tooth, all those misses seem worth it!

In the end, it was a great experience. Like most things, it takes real experience to become good at blackwater diving. With every blackwater dive, I gain more and more experience, and get better and better at efficiently finding and searching gravel beds for long lost treasures.

Please Visit The Megalodon Page for more information on Blackwater Diving in South Carolina.

Images of the Fossils Found

After exhaustive research, I concluded this is a Plieistocene Horse tooth (Equus sp.), and not a colonial horse tooth.

The key to identifying grazing animal teeth is by looking at the enamel patterns on the top of the teeth. Each grazer has distinctly different enamel patterns. The enamel pattern of this tooth matches the upper molar of a horse tooth (Equus sp.).
Upper horse teeth have a more square shape, where lower horse teeth have a more oval shape. tooth.

Carcharocles Auriculatus Fossil Shark Tooth From The Cooper River, South Carolina

This might be a Carcharocles Auriculatus Fossil Shark Tooth. Although it is very worn, what's left of the root is MUCH thicker and more robust than any of my C. Angustidens teeth, especially for a lateral tooth.

Colonial Pottery Shard

This is a historically interesting piece of pottery. When found, I noticed it didn't have the typical Native American impressions or patterns in it. Apparently, this fragment is colonial in origin.
It's from a low-fired, unornamented, clay object, such as a pot or plate. Apparently, this Colono Ware (Colonoware) pottery was mainly created and used by African slaves.

Isurus Retroflexus Fossil Shark Tooth - Mako Shark - From The Cooper River, South Carolina

Isurus Retroflexus Fossil Shark Tooth - Mako Shark - From The Cooper River, South Carolina

Recommended Books and Fossils:

Fossil Diving Identification Guide
By: Daniel Berg, 2009

This is the Blackwater Fossil Diving Identification Guide. It is packed with images and information. If you are interested in blackwater diving, this is a must read.

Shark Tooth Hunting on the Carolina Coast
By: Ashley Oliphant, 2015
A guide on how to find and identify fossil shark teeth on the North and South Carolina beaches. It also has an easy to use section for shark teeth identification. If you want to find shark teeth in the Carolinas, read this book first!

Get Your Very Own Megalodon Tooth:

These are Authentic Megalodon teeth sold by Fossil Era , a reputable fossil dealer (that I personally know) who turned his fossil passion into a business. His Megalodon teeth come in all sizes and prices, from small and inexpensive to large muesum quality teeth. Each tooth has a detailed descriptions and images that include its collecting location and formation. If you are looking for a megalodon tooth, browse through these selections!

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