South Carolina is home to a unique web of wildlife, and it's not just limited to its inland creatures. Along the coast of South Carolina, there's a wide range of marine life that visitors are likely to encounter - along with some they'd be better off avoiding altogether. When visiting these sunny, sandy Carolina shores, animals and beach critters are not always afraid of the humans who frequent its beaches.
Among seabirds, snakes, dolphins, and, yes, even the famed stingrays, South Carolina is home to a fascinating - and beautiful - world of wildlife.
Animals That Visitors To South Carolina Are Likely To See On Its Beaches
When visiting the beach in South Carolina, it's more unlikely that beach goers wouldn't see its native wildlife. On the sand, seabirds reign supreme and there are plenty of them to see for the avid - and novice - bird-watcher. These birds are also especially common to see at any one of South Carolina's waterside nature preserves or parks, of which there are many.
Along the beach, visitors can keep their eyes peeled for:
- Royal Terns: These cute-looking birds are easily recognizable due to their bright orange peaks and the black feathers on their heads resembling somewhat of a hat. They are small, but easy to see due to their distinctive coloring; they are also only found near salt water, making them the ideal beach seabird.
- Great Black-Backed Gulls: These seagulls stand out from the typical gull thanks to their impressive wingspan, which can measure more than five feet in length. Their black features stand out in comparison to white and gray gulls, and they are an impressive sight to see in person.
- Brewers Blackbirds: These beautiful blackbirds are beloved by many thanks to their unique iridescent coloring that appears to reflect multiple colors at once. They commonly appear to be black and purple in the sunlight and are impressive in-flight hunters, as well.
- Great Egrets: Some might know these majestic birds as Great White Herons, and they're likely to be found in Myrtle Beach. With a wingspan that's larger than that of the Great Black-Backed Gull, they're unmistakable - at three feet tall, they have a commanding presence but live a fairly quiet waterside life.
- Brown Pelicans: Brown Pelicans are often found near water sources as this is where they breed and hunt for food, which is occasionally the eggs of other nesting birds, along with shellfish, fish, and crustaceans.
- Bonaparte's Gulls: While these gulls are fairly typical along much of the eastern seaboard, they're also known to fly north - and west - to the Great Lakes, as they are a migratory species.
- Western Sandpipers: It's true that no two sandpipers look the same, and the Western Sandpiper proves this by changing from gray in the winter to red and brown in the summer months. While they're not native to the East Coast, they can occasionally be seen enjoying the warm waters of Myrtle Beach.
- Sandwich Terns: This speedy fish is well-known for its incredible midair hunting ability, which also includes diving to catch unsuspecting fish. They're easily recognizable due to their forked tails, which help increase the velocity at which they fly.
- Willets: One of the most common birds seen in Myrtle Beach, specifically, is the Willet - these gray birds have simple features, with the exception of the white rings around their eyes, mimicking glasses.
In addition to these animals, visitors to South Carolina's waterways may also run into Lettered Olive Snails. These unusual but striking creatures are carnivorous and eat crustaceans, and are easily recognizable due to their beautifully ornate shells.
Even more rare are two predatory species: Alligators and Coyotes. Fortunately for those visiting South Carolina's beaches, alligators are freshwater reptiles so while they have been spotted on the coast, it is very rare. Coyotes are more likely to roam South Carolina's more remote beaches and islands, as they roam the quieter coastal areas in search of food, and stick mainly to parks.
Loggerhead Turtles are another common, and native, species that one might see on the coast of South Carolina. These turtles climb up to beach dunes to lay their eggs between the months of May and mid-August, where the hatchlings make their way back to the ocean from July through October.
- Fun Fact: Loggerhead Turtle nests can be home to as many as 120 eggs!
Visitors should be wary of any wildlife when visiting South Carolina, especially nesting turtles. Do not disturb any nests or attempt to pick up any hatchlings - watch from a distance!
Marine Life That Visitors Are Likely To See Off The Coast In The Waters Of South Carolina
Those frequenting the beaches in South Carolina might be surprised to know that even on a beach as crowded as Myrtle, there's a decent chance of seeing some type of marine wildlife. Dolphins are frequent visitors and can be seen just offshore, and there are more than nine different species that have been spotted around the state's shorelines. They're most commonly seen at dusk or dawn, and visitors can even take dolphin tours to get a closer look.
Jellyfish are no strangers to the shores of South Carolina, either, and they can even wash up on the shore. Swimmers especially should be wary to avoid getting stung, and should never touch a jellyfish that's washed up on the beach. Back in 2018, South Carolina saw Man-O-Wars on the shores of Myrtle Beach, which are highly venomous and should be avoided at all costs.
Another animal that visitors might not expect to see in South Carolina is the famed stingray. These can often be confused with skates, which have a similar appearance but no barbed venomous tail. Back in 2019, Myrtle Beach saw multiple stingray stings, most of which were unsuspecting swimmers who did not realize how close they were to these non-aggressive animals. While EMTs are equipped to deal with stings from stingrays, it's recommended that those wading into South Carolina's waters do what's known as the 'stingray shuffle' - basically, shuffling one's feet around and forward in order to spook any stingrays in the area.