Does Hilton Head, SC Have Jellyfish? (Types, Photos & Stings Explained)

Hilton Head Island off the coast of South Carolina is one of the country’s most sought-after vacation destinations.

With its world-class beaches, months-long summertime recreation, and plenty of options for family fun, it’s no surprise that Hilton Head and the neighboring beaches and islands are top choices.

The waters here are along the Atlantic Gulf Stream, and about midway along the eastern seaboard.

Together with the continental shelf lining South Carolina, this means that the waters around Hilton Head are home to very robust marine life, as many ocean animals count on the warm tropical temperatures that are brought by the Gulf Stream — whether they spend the entire year here or migrate to the region to escape colder temperatures farther north!

But the big question on many tourists minds is: Does Hilton Head have jellyfish?

By Sarah oswaldd – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Jellyfish are just one type of marine creature that frequents the waters around Hilton Head, and there are several common species in the area including:

  • Cannonball jellyfish
  • Moon jellyfish
  • Lion’s mane jellyfish
  • Sea nettle jellyfish

Don’t let this list scare you if you’re planning a vacation to Hilton Head!

Jellyfish are often a misunderstood brand of marine animal. It’s not unusual to only hear about them when there’s been an instance of a startled jellyfish stinging an unknowing beachgoer.

Armed with the right information on avoiding unpleasant interactions (scroll down for tips and tricks), your summer vacation in South Carolina will be sting-free!

Types of Jellyfish at Hilton Head, SC

There are several types of jellyfish that can technically be found nearby.

However, there are a handful that are common enough to be dubbed Hilton Head Jellyfish.

All in all, only a few of these species are known to sting humans, and on the contrary, they can be quite beautiful!

The most common jellies in Hilton Head, SC are cannonball, moon, lion’s mane, and sea nettle jellyfish.

But let’s take a look at all of them:

Cannonball Jellyfish

Judy Gallagher, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Cannonball Jellyfish are the most common species around Hilton Head.

Sometimes, it’s known as a “cabbagehead.”

These creatures have a round, dome-shaped bell that can be around 10 inches in diameter, with a small cluster of arms below.

Cannonballs sometimes have brown lines along the rim.

They are not known for stinging humans, though they do have a toxin and are technically capable of it.

Contact can cause very minor irritation and itchiness, but overall, cannonball jellyfish are considered harmless to humans!

Moon Jellyfish

By Alexander Vasenin – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

The moon jelly is a species that is found throughout most of the world’s oceans.

It is most easily recognized by four visible circles on its bell, with a translucent body elsewhere, and short tentacles.

Generally, moon jellies can grow to the size of a plate.

They often float just beneath the water surface, and while you may see moon jellies, they don’t sting humans.

Lion’s Mane Jellyfish

Dan Hershman, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The lion’s mane jellyfish is one of the largest jellyfish species in the world!

They don’t have an average diameter or length, since they vary greatly in size, but the lion’s mane jellies found in lower latitudes like South Carolina can be around 20 inches in diameter (their northern counterparts reach a stunning six feet!).

They are also quite colorful. Younger jellies are light orange, while the adults reach a darker red.

Lion’s mane jellyfish tentacles can be quite long. The large specimens are actually known to be longer than blue whales, though you won’t see any of that size around Hilton Head!

These jellies can sting humans, though it’s uncommon in this area.

Sea Nettle Jellyfish

By Jarek Tuszyński / CC-BY-SA-3.0 & GDFL, CC BY-SA 3.0

The sea nettle is by far the most common of the Hilton Head Jellyfish, and along the East Coast in general.

They can be found in many of the world’s oceans, but fortunately, the Atlantic specimen is one of the smaller ones (adults are around 16 inches in diameter).

Its coloring can vary, but look out for pale jellies with pink or yellow tones, punctuated with colored stripes.

The sea nettle is most responsible for stings, though its sting is not aggressive enough to seriously harm humans unless there is also an allergic reaction.

Generally, a sea nettle sting is moderate, and causes mild discomfort.

Jellyfish Season at Hilton Head

Jellyfish sometimes have a bad reputation as dangerous sea creatures due to their stings, especially for an animal that can’t actually move on its own, other than vertically.

They are carried almost entirely by sea currents, and they pose the biggest threat when they’ve been washed close to shore, or onshore.

Starting in late June and lasting generally eight weeks, until around Labor Day, Hilton Head experiences a jellyfish season.

As the weather warms, the numbers of jellyfish follow suit.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to see jellyfish or even know that they’re present until after someone has been stung.

Hilton Head does record a significant number of jellyfish stings each season, with some of the highest numbers reaching over 2,000 stings in a week during the warmest weeks.

Though relative to the total number of jellyfish (and people!) that the region hosts during the same months, the danger isn’t so high.

Plus, the most common types of stings are only severe enough to cause minor irritation.

The most common stinging jellyfish at Hilton Head is the Sea Nettle.

This species accounts for the vast majority of stings recorded along the South Carolina coast, though many of them are from dead jellyfish!

Hilton Head’s location relative to ocean currents means that large numbers of dead jellyfish can wash ashore. The swells and sea currents here carry jellies in groups, and the patches of cooler water currents nearby can lead to mass jellyfish deaths.

Many people think that a dead jellyfish is harmless, but that’s not the case, and even dead jellies and lone tentacles should be left alone.

Avoiding & Treating Jellyfish Stings at Hilton Head (Tips & Things to Know)

Jellyfish stings are largely chance encounters, which makes them difficult to prepare for ahead of time.

That being said, stings are unlikely as long as care is taken.

However, the only way to be 100% sure of avoiding a sting is to refrain from going in the water.

Since that isn’t always practical or enjoyable — it is a beach vacation, after all! — there are a few things to keep in mind to reduce the chances of a dangerous jellyfish encounter.

Wear protective clothing. 

Items like wetsuits and rashguards can protect your skin, even if you do have a close call. Even something as thin as panty hose can make a difference!

Stay informed on conditions. 

At Hilton Head, lifeguards and officials will be up to date on the conditions of surrounding waters, such as information on which spots jellyfish are common in, or where they’ve recently been sighted.

Never touch a jellyfish. 

Even if a jellyfish is dead and has washed up, its tentacles can still contain toxins that can be released on contact.

If someone has been stung, there are two cases that require immediate help.

The first is if the sting has affected an area larger than half of an arm or half of a leg, and the second is if the person is showing signs of an allergic reaction like swelling or trouble breathing, as these circumstances can change rapidly.

If you’ve been stung by a jellyfish, the first thing to do is remove the barbs with any rough clothing or material you have — barbs left in the skin will continue to release toxins.

It’s also important to know that jellyfish tentacles don’t have to be attached to a live jellyfish to inflict a sting! Even small pieces of tentacles, which can wash ashore with other debris like sea grasses, can sting.

You’ll also want to neutralize the toxins from spreading unnecessarily.

White vinegar and baking soda are both options for this, and beach staff usually have them on hand. Only use vinegar if all of the barbs have been removed. Shaving cream can also do the job.

To reduce the pain and swelling, you can use a calamine lotion, topical benadryl, or other hydrocortisone cream, along with an ice pack.

If a jellyfish sting is particularly bad, other medical treatment may be the best course of action.

If someone is having a severe reaction to a sting, emergency care may be necessary.

The first option is to alert a lifeguard, or call 911.

The more common medical treatment, though, is simple oral medication to relieve a reaction or sensitivity. If a sting is in or near a sensitive area like the eyes, it will need immediate medical care to be treated correctly.

Wrapping Up

So, if you’ve been wondering if there are jellyfish at Hilton Head, the answer is yes! But should you worry about them? Probably not.

Jellyfish can seem intimidating, but they’re only dangerous in rare circumstances.

If treated correctly, there is next to no risk of a dangerous encounter with a jellyfish at Hilton Head, SC.

Simply be prepared, and keep in mind the tips for swimming in jellyfish territory, and your Hilton Head vacation is sure to be relaxing, delightful, and just as iconic as its reputation builds it up to be!

For more, don’t miss:

Hope this helps!

1 thought on “Does Hilton Head, SC Have Jellyfish? (Types, Photos & Stings Explained)”

  1. I was stung by something today. I didn’t see it but we think it was a jellyfish. It got my legs pretty bad! Any ideas what it could be? It’s very painful.

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