CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- As spring approaches and the temperature warms up, South Carolinians are gearing up to hit the beaches and go boating.
Spring is an active time for South Carolina marine wildlife and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources is reminding residents and visitors how to share the waters safely.
While boaters may encounter porpoises, manatees, and sea turtles in the warm coastal waters, they will most likely spot bottlenose dolphins.
Depending on the time of year, the Charleston coast is home to anywhere 300 and 900 bottlenose dolphins. They are typically solid gray on top with lighter bellies and sides and can reach 12 feet in length and can weigh between 400-600 pounds. Bottlenose dolphins are intelligent mammals and year-round residents of the South Carolina coastal waters.
But, while bottlenose dolphins have a reputation for their friendly and curious nature, it is important to remember that they are still wild animals and should be admired from a distance.
SCDNR said interactions with humans, including boat strikes, and crab trap entanglements are among the leading causes of death for bottlenose dolphins in South Carolina.
According to federal guidelines, boaters must stay at least 50 yards from dolphins, porpoises, and sea turtles and at least 100 yards from large whales. Fifty yards is equal to roughly the length of three semi-trucks or half a football field.
Because collisions between boaters and dolphins are more likely to occur in shallow waters, particular in small tidal creeks and along marsh edges, it is critical to stay alert and maintain lower speeds when boating through these areas.
In addition to boaters, there are steps that beachgoers can take to protect dolphins in the area. Lowcountry dolphins practice strand feeding, a rare and unique behavior in which dolphins momentarily beach themselves to eat.
This phenomenon is fascinating to watch but can be interrupted by beachgoers who come too close. Those lucky enough to witness strand feeding from the shore should follow the same distancing guidelines boaters.
Here are 5 places you may spot dolphins (safely) in Charleston:
- Shem Creek- The docks at Shem Creek are a popular spot for dolphin watching for locals and visitors alike.
- Captain Sam’s Inlet- This inlet tucked between Seabrook and Kiawah islands is one of the only places in the world where dolphins strand feed.
- Waterfront Park- Just past the Pineapple Fountain at downtown’s Waterfront Park is a great place to spot dolphins playing in the Charleston Harbor.
- Pitt Street Bridge- Visit here at sunrise or sunset for the best chance to spot a pod of dolphins.
- Folly Beach- The creeks, inlets, and marshes behind Folly Beach are home to more than 300 wild Atlantic bottlenose dolphins.
Injured, stranded or dead dolphins should be reported immediately to the SCDNR wildlife hotline at 1-800-922-5431. If a boat accidentally collides with a dolphin, the boater(s) should immediately contact SCDNR or the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16 and wait for them to arrive.
For more information about safe interactions with dolphins and other marine mammals, visit NOAA Fisheries’ guidelines website.