Spotlights on the Coastal Wildlife of South Carolina

Spotlights on the Coastal Wildlife of South Carolina

charleston sunset cruiseThe coast of South Carolina is rich with wildlife both above and below water. From playful dolphins to beautifully colored blue crab and shrimp to oysters, the South Carolina coast is buzzing with excitement.

Below we’ve spotlighted a few of the unique animals found off the coast of South Carolina and some interesting facts about each:

Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins: As one of the world’s most intelligent mammals, the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin can be trained to do tricks and can often be seen in large aquariums, performing for visitors.

But you won’t catch this savvy animal in the South Carolina Aquarium. According to South Carolina state law, “It is unlawful for a person, which includes corporation, to display a wild caught or captive-bred mammal of the order Cetacean (dolphins and whales)” (click here to view the official bill). Luckily for dolphin-lovers who are visiting Charleston or live in Charleston, dolphins can be seen in Charleston harbor on a daily basis, feeding, playing, and enjoying their freedom in the beautiful waters off Charleston’s coast. In fact, Charleston Harbor Tours & The Schooner Pride offer an afternoon dolphin sail that provides ample viewing of this magnificent animal.

Below are some fun facts about the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin:

  • The Atlantic bottlenose dolphin is the South Carolina State Marine Mammal.
  • Although they can grow up to 12 feet and 1400 pounds, Atlantic bottlenose dolphins are usually 8-9 feet and weigh 400-600 pounds.
  • Coastal dolphins are adapted for warm, shallow waters and prefer waters of less than 100 feet. They occupy habitats including rocky reefs, calm lagoons, and open waters. They occur along outer coastlines, in bays, sounds, inlets, estuaries, and other inland waters.
  • Dolphins are extremely fast for underwater animals, reaching speeds of over 18-miles-per-hour and can breach up to 16 feet high out of the water.
  • Bottlenose dolphins are social animals, living in large groups and communicating using an intricate system of sounds.
  • Using echolocation to pinpoint their prey, bottlenose dolphins release noises that travel beneath the water and bounce back when they hit an object.

dolphin sail charleston

Blue Crabs: When most of us think of the blue crab we think of a tasty dinner! With sweet and delicious meat, it’s hard not to feel hungry whenever you see these critters in the wild . . .

The blue crab, an invertebrate named for its beautifully colored blue claws, can be found along the eastern coasts of North and South America. In certain areas of North America, the blue crab has been overharvested, causing statewide restrictions to be put in place.

See below for some interesting blue crab facts:

  • Blue crabs can be found all along Charleston’s waterways & are a great seafood item! In fact, they’re one of the most harvested creatures on the planet.
  • Female blue crabs mate only ONE time in their entire lives (often living to be 1 – 3 years old).
  • Blue crabs are not completely blue – in fact, most of their surface area is a brownish green color. The trimmings on their claws and legs are also blue.
  • The scientific name from the blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, means “savory beautiful swimmer.”
  • The blue crab has five legs on each side and is the only crab with swimmerets. These back legs allow the blue crab to swim or skull through the water.

Image above of a blue crab taken from National Geographic’s website

Grass Shrimp: Another tasty seafood delight, the grass shrimp are one of the most common estuarine inhabitants in South Carolina waters. They are adapted to handle a wide range of salinity and possess nearly transparent bodies, except for yellow or orange pigment in the eyestalks.

Below are some interesting facts about the grass shrimp:

  • Grass shrimp rarely exceed 2 inches in length.
  • Depending on how you pick up a grass shrimp, you may hurt yourself! With a horn at the front of their head, it’s important to make sure you avoid this area when picking up a shrimp as it can hurt to touch.
  • Grass shrimp spawn from April through the end of September. The best time to fish for shrimp is during the month of September when most have reached maturity.
  • Grass shrimp eggs are fertilized externally as they are extruded before the female attaches them to her pleopods. The eggs then incubate 12-60 days before hatching. Females molt again a few days after spawning and may produce another brood.
  • Adult grass shrimp eat microalgae attached to aquatic plants, small marine worms, and crustaceans.

Oysters: Famous as one of Charleston’s main seafood staples, oysters are celebrated around the Lowcountry. Each winter, dozens upon dozens of oyster roasts are hosted around the Charleston area, where friends and family come together over these carnivorous invertebrates to shuck, eat, and socialize.

oyster roast

Below are some fun facts about the oyster:

  • Found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, the eastern oyster is a bivalve. These this bivalve species is often confused with other species such as the pearl oysters, than can produce pearls.
  • Oysters form reefs, comprised of living oysters and shell rubble. The living oysters cement the reef together at the same time forming a perfect location for new, young oysters to attach. Oyster reefs help stabilize shorelines by creating a barrier that bears the brunt of currents and waves that would otherwise erode the shoreline.
  • Living oysters are filter feeders. To eat, they open their top shell and pump water across their gills. As the water passes over the gills, fine particles suspended in the water become trapped by mucus. Non-food particles are expelled while phytoplankton is ingested.
  • Adult oysters reproduce once the water temperatures exceed 68 degrees F. In South Carolina, this is generally April through October. Oysters reproduce by releasing eggs and sperm into the water. Fertilized eggs develop into zooplankton within six hours. The larvae remain plankton for approximately three weeks before developing a foot. Once it develops a foot, it settles out to the bottom of the water column and begins looking for a hard substrate to attach to. Once suitable substrate is found, the oyster larva metamorphoses into an adult. At this point, the young oyster is called spat. It will continue to grow as a sessile adult.
  • An oyster can live up to 20 years!

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