Bill Eberlein: Fossil Diver
When Changing Careers Means Changing Atmospheres
by Carrie Hirsch
On the fast track to success in the corporate world, Bill Eberlein earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting and Economics from Penn State University, worked as an accountant and later migrated into the field of Information Technology. He moved to Georgia in 1999 to work at Gulfstream Aerospace.
“There were no hotels in the area back then – we had to stay an exit away on 95. I was also teaching part-time in Erie, Pennsylvania and ended up at Savannah Technical College in 2002. I then earned my Master’s Degree in Accounting.
I met a group of divers at Gulfstream who talked about sharks’ teeth and I remember thinking that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life! Why would anybody dive for those tiny teeth?” Eberlein explains. But then his co-worker brought in a megalodon tooth and he was hooked right away. He recalls thinking, “I just want to find one.” “That’s how all passions begin!” says Dodie Eberlein, his wife and diving partner. “He started diving for fossils all the time. He dives five days a week, two dives per day – an average 3 to 4 days a week per year.” He can stay down for two hours in shallow water and for one hour in deeper water. His captain, a former military man, will rev the engine to let him know that he needs to surface due to lightning or other hazards.
The couple launched their company Megateeth.com in 1999. One atmosphere measures 33.8 feet. There are few jobs which require changing atmospheres on a daily basis – diving is one of them. “Today, I was diving 45 feet. In deep water, I tie a line to the anchor. Then I just start feeling around on the bottom with my hands.”
Eberlein’s most important find to date was a mastodon jaw. “Initially, I thought it was a log. I had 3 to 4 inches of visibility. I thought there was a knot in the log but two mastodon teeth were still intact within the jaw.”
Dodie also dives with him on occasion, but Eberlein explains it’s easier for him to dive alone. He taught SCUBA courses back in the 1990s.”I still get calls all the time from people who want to dive with me but I don’t do it. I took a guy out one day – he said he used to be a dive instructor then he showed up with rental gear. I advise people to never drive alone, don’t dive in murky water and don’t dive with dangerous animals.
Once on a dive trip, our group had done about eighteen dives and hadn’t seen any sharks but then a fisherman nearby caught a fish and an 8-foot tiger shark appeared! A stone crab used its claw to grab my one thumb and then he reached up and attached his other claw to my other thumb. I batted it off. Sometimes you’ll grab something and it moves – it could be a stingray. Once I felt a punch to my face – enough of a punch to have a lingering effect – it could’ve been a shark trying to get away. I never see sharks when I dive but I know they’re there. Usually the sharks hit you, then move away.”
When Eberlein was recently diving in Georgia, the current had turned so he knew the longer he stayed in the water the harder it would be to get around. Since he has zero or very little visibility, he can only read his equipment with a color LED device and brings it right up to his mask in order to see it.
The Eberleins put on educational exhibits of their fossil finds in the Lowcountry. “Children love both dinosaurs and sharks and this is a dinosaur shark. Collectors are more specific about what they want. The couple has a client who once invited them to view her collection on board “The World”, a private residence-at-sea which was docked in Charleston at the time. Her collection was made up exclusively of Eberlein’s finds and she wanted to meet him in person.
He is also a collector and has about 20 fossils he wouldn’t part with. “You have to love it because there are days you’ll find nothing. When I have a really good day, I can’t wait to get out there again. How long do I want to do this? One day it was a horrible day – I was freezing and was not finding anything – and then I thought to myself I’m not behind a desk.