The Truth About Sharks and Jellyfish


Entering into the warm coastal waters of Myrtle Beach, that familiar and ominous “Jaws” tune might be playing in your head:

“Duh-nuh… Duh-nuh…”

But really, it’s more like “Ho-hum… ho-hum…”

While we might freeze in terror at the news of a fatal shark attack somewhere in the world, in reality those are extremely rare. Like, struck-by-lightning-while-winning-the-lottery rare. Also unlikely? A jellyfish sting. Yet we still let these things frighten us away from the water.

If you practice basic common sense safety, the beach can be as safe a spot there is.

Well, are they?

First, let’s get this out of the way: yes, there are sharks in the waters off the Grand Strand beaches. Yes, much kerfuffle has been made over shark sightings and bitings in the last couple of years. Bites usually occur when a swimmer ventures too far out into the water or near a spot where sharks might feed (think piers where those fishing are dropping yummy bait). Frankly, we’re more of a menace to them than they are to us. Sharks don’t seek out humans, and they bite when we’re mistaken for fish. And that huge tiger shark caught by a charter last year? That was three miles offshore — and aggressively hunted. So your average family outing to the beach ought not provoke worry.

How common?

Here in the United States, we average about 16 shark attacks per year, with less than one fatality every two years, according to National Geographic. That’s a huge statistical rarity — might as well buy that lottery ticket. There are close to 400 species of sharks in the ocean, but very few are considered dangerous to humans, including great white, tiger and bull sharks. Again, unprovoked attacks are an anomaly.

Nevertheless, there are some precautions we take when at the beach to lessen the already low likelihood of a shark run-in. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recommends remaining close to shore, staying in groups, avoiding ocean dips in darkness or twilight, not swimming while bleeding from a wound, choosing more muted swimwear, and not wearing shiny jewelry in the water. Attacks are more likely to occur around or between sandbars where sharks can get trapped by low tide. Always heed the recommendations of the lifeguard on duty.

The other menace

Jellyfish stings, on the other hand, are more common but tend to be far less dangerous. Most stings result in discomfort and very few become fatal. Beware of jellyfish warning signs and avoid the ones washed up on the beach; they can still sting if the tentacles are wet, according to NOAA. If you are stung, seek out a lifeguard, who has first aid for such things. He or she will direct you to get medical help, but will treat the wound with either sea water or diluted vinegar, then perhaps helping to remove the venom sacs. If the reaction is mild, a hydrocortisone cream or antihistamine might be all that’s needed. If it’s severe, hospitalization may be necessary.  The cube-shaped sea wasp is the most venomous stinger in the area, however most of the jellyfish around coastal Carolina are harmless, says the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

Now that we’ve sufficiently calmed you, do note that the Myrtle Beach area has a shark mascot of sorts in Mary Lee, a 16-foot-long great white tagged by researchers at OCEARCH, and dabbles in Grand Strand waters now and again. She even has a Facebook page devoted to the awareness and protection of sharks.

For the record, we’re much more interested in her than she is in us.

(posted 5/12/14)

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