Most beachgoers think a bottle of sunscreen is all they need to keep their family safe when taking a vacation in Myrtle Beach, but there are other dangers including sharks, jellyfish, even bacteria lurking nearby and visitors should be aware.
Numerous reports in 2017 of two great white sharks swimming along the Grand Strand might have some swimmers on edge, but those tagged fish are miles offshore in deeper waters.
However, shark nibbles and sometimes puncture wounds are reported once or twice a year along the Grand Strand, often from smaller sharks fishing in murky water.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Bites are reported once or twice a year from Surfside to North Myrtle Beach, but no fatalities have ever been recorded in this area.
A 10-year old girl was bitten in the hand by a four- to five-foot shark while boogie boarding in 2013. In North Myrtle Beach last year, a 42-year-old man was floating in the water when a three- to five-foot shark punctured his foot.
Erin Weeks with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources Marine Resources Division says there are 20 shark species along the state’s coast, but only a small number come in contact with humans.
“They don’t have the best eyesight and most mistake ankles or feet for shiny fish,” Weeks said. “Once they realize their mistake, they tend to swim away.”
To avoid sharks, she recommends that beachgoers not swim during dawn and dusk, when sharks are more active, or when the water is particularly murky.
If you believe you have been bitten by a shark, seek medical attention.
There are periodic reports of jellyfish washing up on Myrtle Beach, a clear or white round balloon-looking critter called a cannonball jellyfish that is mostly harmless unless stepped on.
They migrated earlier this year, as evidenced by the massive numbers that washed ashore in the Myrtle Beach area in April.
“They are pretty harmless to humans, but if you see one in the water avoid them,” Weeks said. “They typically don’t sting, and when they do it’s not that bad.”
If you get stung, don’t scratch or rub it, Weeks said. Wash with warm salt water and use a credit card or something with a sharp edge to scrape off any remaining cells so it does not continue to sting.
The dangerous creatures are the man-of-war, a relative of the jellyfish that makes only rare appearances along the Grand Strand.
A slew of the creatures washed up in Hilton Head in May, most likely due to unusual offshore winds combined with current conditions.
Weeks said those don’t usually wash up on shore in large numbers.
If you see one of these on the beach, avoid it and alert the lifeguard so they can make sure the area is safe for swimmers, Weeks said.
“It’s not common that we get reports of them,” Weeks said. “They are rare in our waters, but this time of year, they are floating around, getting to warmer latitudes.”
“Folks don’t need to really worry about anything when they get to the beach. Interactions with sharks and jellyfish tend to be really rare, and I would say get out on the beach and enjoy it as normal,” Weeks said.
Always keep an eye out for the flags flying at lifeguard stands which indicate water safety. A blue or purple flag means marine pests are present, and caution should be used while swimming.
Those clear running streams from outfall pipes and ponding of water nearby are not nature’s kiddie pools and should always be avoided.
Those pipes carry stormwater runoff, and after heavy rains can carry bacteria that can cause illness including gastroenteritis.
Swimming in contaminated swash water can also cause infections in ears, eyes, noses and skin, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).
To protect the public, the department issues two kinds of swimming advisories — long term and temporary advisories — that can be viewed on itswebpage.
The long-term advisories are posted online year-round near the outfall areas, and permanent nearby signs advise swimmers to go several yards down beach to swim.
“We tell people to really pay attention to those,” said Robert Yanity, DHEC spokesman. “You probably want to stay a good bit away from those on either side.”
Temporary advisories are issued based on testing samples that show high levels of bacteria in the water, and usually last one to three days after a heavy rainstorm. Those are also posted on the webpage, and through media reports including the Sun News.
“Usually it doesn’t last that long, it just gives the water a chance to flow out and get diluted in the ocean,” Yanity said. “You never know what infections you can get from it.”
If you walk through or play in outfall water, you should wash yourself off, Yanity said.
Look for the flag waving at lifeguard stands in Myrtle Beach. If it’s green, that means there are calm conditions and it’s safe to swim.
A yellow flag signals that waves are high, and swimmers should be careful.
But a red flag means swimmers beware, because the waves are strong, the surf is high and so is the risk for rip currents.
Rip currents are narrow channels of fast-moving water than can move up to speeds of eight feet per second, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
That’s faster than even an Olympic swimmer can handle.
If caught in a rip current, swimmers should swim parallel to the shore and swim back at an angle.
Now that you know what to watch out for and when, be sure to keep yourself updated on the latest Myrtle Beach shark news. You can also check out one of Myrtle Beach’s many indoor and outdoor water parks, golf courses or other family friendly things to do if there is a local swim advisory while you’re on vacation.