News 2 I-Team: License required to collect shark teeth from the water

The next time you plan on looking for shark teeth in the ocean or waterway consider you need a license issued by the state to take that tooth home.

It’s a law called the South Carolina Underwater Antiquities Act of 1991.

A local diver called News 2 I-Team reporter Rebecca Collett after the state agency that enforces the law revoked his hobby diver license and put a stop to him giving shark teeth to kids.

Meet the shark tooth fairy

Mike Harris had been diving for three decades off the coast of South Carolina.  It was a hobby that grew into much more.

"Before I was banned from diving, I’d dive for shark teeth and then hide them on the beach for kids to find," he explained.

His beach hunts earned him super hero status with the hundreds of kids who found the buried teeth on the beaches near Beaufort.

"After I started doing them, I’d be at a grocery store and kids would be like, "You’re the shark tooth fairy".  That just makes you feel like Superman or Iron man."

But Harris was no force against the SC Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology.  The agency decided to shut him down by revoking his hobby diver license two years ago.

Problem reports and problem profits

Harris shared emails he exchanged with the SCIAA with the News 2 I-Team.  Researchers cited issues with his dive reports, which are required quarterly for research.  The reports that divers file help document the fossil record in South Carolina.

They also stated concerns of the “scale and scope” of his beach hunts, where he gave hundreds of shark teeth away to children.  The law  requires you to keep fossil resources for at least 60 days in case the SCIAA wants to take possession of them.   Apparently Harris was giving the shark teeth away to kids too soon.

The I-Team contacted the SCIAA for their side.  James Spirek, State Underwater Archaeologist in the Maritime Research Division, explained via email the two main problems centered around Harris’ paperwork and the fee he charged parents for the beach hunts. The fee, Harris says, covered his costs to find the teeth and host the events.

When we requested a taped interview, Spirek declined.

To better understand the value of shark teeth, the I-Team reached out to researchers at the College of Charleston.  They say loose shark teeth aren’t worth scientific study calling them “phenomenally common”.

It is the intent of the South Carolina Underwater Antiquities Act of 1991 to preserve and encourage the scientific and recreational values inherent in submerged archæological historic properties and paleontological properties for the benefit of the people of the State, according to the SCIAA's website. The act declares as property of the state, all submerged archæological historic property, which has remained unclaimed for fifty years or more, and paleontological property located on or recovered from submerged lands over which the State has sovereign control, the site continues.

The fairy flies again

Two days after the I-Team email to the SCIAA, Harris got his license back.

The issue also caught the attention of Senator Sandy Senn.  She told News 2 the SCIAA is a very small organization with very little oversight.  Senator Senn said she plans on checking on other, similar complaints about the SCIAA.  Next session she plans on introducing an update to the 1991 law.

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