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Jellyfish 101: Why you’re seeing them on our beaches and what you should know

Thousands of jellyfish litter Hilton Head Island’s beach. Experts say its normal.

Thousands of small cannonball jellyfish wash up on the shoreline of Hilton Head Island
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Thousands of small cannonball jellyfish wash up on the shoreline of Hilton Head Island

A cluster of dead jellyfish washed up along the shores of Myrtle Beach Monday morning following a string of thunderstorms over the weekend.

Residents reported a high concentration of cannonball jellyfish along the Grand Strand Monday morning, but experts say spotting groups of dead jellyfish, called blossoms, on the beach is normal in the spring and summer seasons.

“The general consensus is that the sightings are not unusual or unexpected for this time of year,” said Dr. Denise Sanger, marine biologist with S.C. Department of Natural Resources. “Cannonballs are the most common jellyfish in coastal South Carolina waters, and conditions have been right this spring for large numbers to occur off our coast.”

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Cannonball jellyfish wash ashore after days of onshore winds and current. Cannonball jellyfish are usually harmless to humans. May 13, 2019. Jason Lee jlee@thesunnews.com

Earlier this month, The Island Packet also reported thousands of dead jellyfish stretching more than a mile on a Hilton Head beach. Jellyfish are mostly made of water, so they die quickly after washing up on shore, according to The Island Packet.

Sanger added that cannonballs, also known locally as jellyballs, are unable to control their movement, which causes them to drift in the ocean currents and was ashore en masse, especially during rain storms and/or strong onshore winds.

The Grand Strand was in the path of heavy storms moving northeast on Sunday and Myrtle Beach experienced severe thunderstorms, according to The National Weather Service in Wilmington, North Carolina. The NWS also put out a beach hazards statement through Monday evening calling for strong south to north long shore current at Horry County beaches.

“The abundances are strongly influenced by wind and associated current and water patterns,” said Dr. Paul Gayes, Director at Burroughs & Chapin Center for Marine and Wetlands Studies at Coastal Carolina University.

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Cannonball jellyfish wash ashore after days of onshore winds and current. Cannonball jellyfish are usually harmless to humans. May 13, 2019. Jason Lee jlee@thesunnews.com

Despite the often unpleasant appearance of dead jellyfish sprawled out on the tide-line on both sides of the Apache Pier, beachgoers weren’t deterred by the sight.

One beachgoer told The Sun News she’s grown accustomed to seeing jellyfish on the beach after growing up on the shoreline in Pittsburgh, while Canadian resident Brandon Silenzi said he and his son, Nolan, were petting them as they walked along the beach.

Cannonball jellyfish are usually harmless to humans, but contact with them may cause itchy skin or minor eye irritation. Sanger said they are also a favorite food of leatherback sea turtles, which follow them north this time of the year to feed.

Anna Young is the Coastal Cities reporter for The Sun News covering anything and everything that happens locally. Young, an award-winning journalist who got her start reporting local news in New York, is dedicated to upholding the values of journalism by listening, learning, seeking out the truth and reporting it accurately. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from SUNY Purchase College.
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