The sparkling waters of the Lowcountry are teeming with a variety of marine life, due to its diverse ecosystem. Along with the coastal waters, the Carolina bays, both fresh and saltwater marshes, and brown-water swamps, are all part of this complex system and are home to many different species of fish, reptiles, amphibians, plants, and crustaceans. Highlighted below are just a very few of the underwater creatures that inhabit the local waters of Charleston.
The always popular, gray colored bottlenose dolphin (that almost everyone is familiar with) never fails to make an appearance in the harbors, bays, ocean, and channels around Charleston. We never seem to get tired of watching these graceful beauties bob in and out of the water, usually in pods. They can actually be quite playful at times, riding the wake of a boat or jumping in and out of the water.
Not to be confused with the bottlenose is another species of dolphin, which looks completely different and inhabits, specifically, the open ocean. A beautiful fish, it is characterized by its brilliant and metallic yellows, blues, and greens, although color can vary. This variety is sought after by sport fisherman because of its excellent taste and hard-hitting, aerial maneuvers when it is hooked. (So when someone says they ate dolphin, chances are it was not the bottlenose type that looks like “Flipper!”)
Another popular fish found in the area waters is the red drum, also known as channel bass, redfish, spottail bass, or simply reds. After about three years, their typical weight ranges from six to eight pounds. (The largest one on record weighed in at just over 94 pounds!) They spawn near the shorelines, and the juvenile red drums typically inhabit coastal marshes and bays until they reach maturity. Sport fishermen consider this fish “big game.”
There are many shark species that inhabit these waters as well, such as the bonnethead shark. Sharks have a very keen sense of smell, making them a very competitive predator (to other predators, that is). They search the in-shore waters for blue crab and are around only for summer and early fall. Their wide head and full nose make them perfectly adapted to sniffing out crabs hiding in a patch of oysters. They are both powerful and fast, with a very flexible body.
The wreckfish, due to its sustainable nature, clean taste and grouper-like qualities, is becoming more popular on the menus of local restaurants throughout Charleston. Wreckfish can be found off the Carolina coast, and acquired the name from their tendency to inhabit wrecks or an underwater geographical region of Charleston, called the “Charleston Bump,” just offshore. This fish produces a lot of offspring, making it pretty resistant against over-fishing. Wreckfish is caught using a line, leaving little damage to the environment. On average, it can grow anywhere from three to seven feet long and obtain a weight of 60 to 220 pounds.
Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, New York, is named after this fish, but it is actually a southern species, enjoying a diet of crustaceans, such as clams, oysters, barnacles, and fiddler crabs. Today, they can be found anywhere from the mid-Atlantic to the Texas region. A common length for this fish is five to eight inches, but they can grow as long as 30 inches. Their background is a gray color, with five to six dark bars on either side.
Of course, there are many, many more fish that swim these waters, not to mention our other aquatic friends that inhabit the area, such as various species of turtles, including the loggerhead, and an abundance of crustaceans, snakes, and reptiles. Although many people are squeamish about some of these creatures, it is important to remember that each and every one, large and small, play a vital roll in the delicate balance of the ecosystem in Charleston and also on the planet, as a whole!