South Carolina is home to a unique network of wildlife, and it’s not just limited to its inner creatures. Along the South Carolina coast there is a wide range of marine life that visitors are likely to encounter – as well as some that they are better off avoiding altogether. When visiting these sunny, sandy Carolina shores, animals and beach creatures aren’t always afraid of the humans who frequent its beaches.
From seabirds, snakes, dolphins, and yes, even the famous 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 South Carolina beach, beachgoers are more unlikely to miss its native wildlife. On the sand, seabirds reign supreme and there’s plenty to see for the avid – and novice – birdwatcher. These birds are also especially common in one of South Carolina’s nature preserves or waterfront parks, of which there are many.
Along the beach, visitors can keep their eyes peeled for:
- Royal Tern: These cute birds are easily recognizable due to their bright orange peaks and the black feathers on their somewhat hat-like heads. They are small, but easy to see due to their distinctive coloring; they are also only found near salt water, making them the ideal seabird for the beach.
- Great Black-backed Gulls: These gulls are distinguished from the typical gull by their impressive wingspan, which can measure more than five feet in length. Their black features stand out from the white and gray gulls, and they are an impressive sight to see in person.
- Brewer’s Blackbird: These beautiful blackbirds are loved by many thanks to their unique iridescent coloration which seems to reflect many colors at once. They usually appear black and purple in sunlight and are also impressive hunters in flight.
- Great Egrets: Some may know these majestic birds as the great white herons, and they are likely found in Myrtle Beach. With a wingspan larger than that of the great black-backed gull, they are unmistakable – at three feet tall they have a commanding presence but live a fairly sedate life by the water’s edge.
- Brown Pelicans: Brown pelicans are often found near water sources as this is where they breed and hunt for food, which is sometimes the eggs of other nesting birds, as well as shellfish, fish, and crustaceans.
- Bonaparte’s Seagulls: Although these gulls are fairly typical along much of the eastern seaboard, they are 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 are alike, and the Western Sandpiper proves it by turning gray in winter to red and brown in summer. Although they are not native to the east coast, they can sometimes be seen enjoying the warm waters of Myrtle Beach.
- Sandwich tern: This fast-moving fish is well known for its incredible airborne hunting ability, which also includes diving to catch unsuspecting fish. They are easily recognized by their forked tails, which help increase the speed at which they fly.
- Willets: One of the most common birds seen in Myrtle Beach, in particular, is the Willet – these gray birds have simple features except for the white rings around their eyes, mimicking glasses.
In addition to these animals, visitors to South Carolina’s waterways may also encounter Lettered olive snails. These unusual but striking creatures are carnivorous and crustacean-eating, and are easily recognized due to their beautifully ornate shells.
Even rarer are two predatory species: Alligator and coyotes. Luckily for those who visit South Carolina beaches, alligators are freshwater reptiles, so even if they’ve been spotted on the coast, it’s 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 mostly stick to parks.
Loggerhead sea turtles are another common and native species that might be seen on the coast of South Carolina. These turtles climb the beach dunes to lay their eggs between the months of May and mid-August, where the hatchlings return to the ocean from July to October.
- Fun fact: Loggerhead turtle nests can hold up to 120 eggs!
Visitors should beware of any wildlife when visiting South Carolina, especially nesting turtles. Do not disturb nests or attempt to pick up hatchlings – observe from a distance!
Marine life visitors are likely to see off the coast in South Carolina waters
Those who frequent South Carolina beaches might be surprised to know that even on a beach as crowded as Myrtle, there is a decent chance of seeing some type of marine wildlife. dolphins are frequent visitors and can be seen just offshore, and there are over nine different species that have been spotted around the state’s shores. They are most often seen at dusk or dawn, and visitors can even take dolphin tours to see them up close.
Astonished are no strangers to South Carolina shores either, and they can even wash up on shore. Swimmers in particular should be careful to avoid getting stung and should never touch a jellyfish that has washed up on the beach. Back in 2018South Carolina has seen Man-O-Wars on the shores of Myrtle Beach, which are highly poisonous and should be avoided at all costs.
Another animal visitors don’t expect to see in South Carolina is the famous sray. These can often be confused with skates, which have a similar appearance but lack a barbed venomous tail. Back in 2019, Myrtle Beach saw multiple stings of stingrays, most of which were unsuspecting swimmers who didn’t realize how close they were to these non-aggressive animals. While paramedics are equipped to deal with stingray stings, those wading through South Carolina waters are recommended to do what’s known as the “stingray shuffle” – basically, shaking their feet around and forward to scare stingrays in the area.