South Carolina is home to a healthy alligator population, but our ever-expanding buildings encroach on alligator territory. This leads to conflict as neither species wants to spend much time with the other. So, is it safe to spend time in South Carolina’s water when alligators live there too? This article takes a close look at alligators in Horry County and discovers whether it’s safe to swim there or not.
Where Is Horry County?
Horry County sits in the southeastern area of South Carolina. It’s just 90 miles north of Charlestown and 130 miles east of Columbia, South Carolina’s state capital.
At 1,255 square miles, it’s the largest county in the state, and vibrant Myrtle Beach is one of its popular tourist destinations. Over the past few years, Horry County has seen a vast increase in residents. It’s officially the fastest-growing county in South Carolina, with a population increase of 30.35% between 2010 and 2020.
Horry is pronounced “Oh-Ree” and is best known for its border with the Atlantic Ocean and its diverse range of swamps, forests, beaches, and rivers. Water actually covers 121 square miles of Horry County’s 1,255 square mile total. All this water and the county’s warm climate make it an excellent alligator country.
Do Alligators Live in Horry County? Where?
Yes, alligators live in Horry County, for sure.
Outside these states, the winter temperatures drop too low for exothermic alligators to survive. Alligators are very rarely found south of the Rio Grande River.
A hundred years ago, South Carolina’s alligator numbers dramatically dropped, but numbers have steadily risen since their inclusion on the endangered species list. They’re stable now, to the point that there’s a state lottery in hunting season. Wildlife experts believe South Carolina is home to more than 100,000 alligators, and Lake Marion is home to the largest alligator population in the county. At least 100 alligators hang out there, feeding on its plentiful fish and ducks.
The largest alligator ever caught in South Carolina was shot on the Waccamaw River, just northwest of Horry County’s Myrtle Beach. The unfortunate 13.5 feet long alligator weighed 800 lbs.
Do Alligators Attack People in Horry County?
It’s rare for an alligator to attack a fully grown human. Since 2000 only 17 reported attacks have been recorded, plus four deaths. One of these deaths happened in Horry County in 2022.
75-year-old Myrtle Beach resident Michael Burstein drowned during an alligator attack at Excalaber Court, Myrtle Beach Golf and Yacht Club. Witnesses reported Mr. Burstein was standing poolside when an 11-foot-long alligator pulled him into the retention pool. The SCDNR humanely destroyed the alligator on site but couldn’t save Mr Burnstein.
Alligator attack victims usually die from drowning. Cone-shaped teeth and powerful jaws make a gator’s grip incredibly powerful. Once in the water, it’s difficult to escape their grasp.
Alligator bites require medical attention, and the more serious ones often result in hospitalization. Alligators are formidable predators; even the quite cute small ones are capable of issuing a life-threatening bite.
Experts say that dog walkers are often a secondary target after their dog escapes an alligator. Some pet owners end up injured attempting to save their pets from an alligator attack.
Is It Safe to Swim in Horry County?
There’s always a chance that alligators inhabit Horry County water, so swimming in its rivers, creeks, or any body of water with vegetation cover is risky. Just because you can’t see an alligator, that does not mean one isn’t present. Their green-brown skin and habit of lurking beneath the waterline with just nostrils in the air makes them masters of camouflage.
Tips to keep safe include the following.
- Alligators tend to hunt at night, so do not swim at dusk, dawn, or during the night. Do not swim in vegetated areas where alligators can take cover. This includes treelines because alligators hide in the underbrush.
- Always take a friend or swim near other people should the worst occur.
- Alligators are drawn to small mammals, so do not swim with a pet or leave one on the shoreline.
- Remember that just because alligators are not reported in certain bodies of water, it doesn’t mean it’s safe. Alligators travel by land overnight.
If you are attacked, the National Wildlife Control Training Program recommends the following steps.
- An alligator will grab a limb, then twist and roll. Try to grab onto and roll with the alligator to avoid losing a limb.
- Strike the alligator’s nose and eyes.
- If at all possible, avoid entering the water.
Alligators: Species Overview
So what makes an alligator so dangerous we must think twice about swimming in Horry County?
Alligators look fearsome. In the wild, they can reach 10-15 feet long and weigh hundreds of pounds. Their dark, knobbly skin blends into vegetation and conceals a massive frame in murky water. Submerged alligators resemble a floating log or piece of driftwood.
Alligators ambush hunt their prey because their short legs aren’t capable of long-distance pursuits. Instead, they hide and pounce, using their formidable jaws to clamp onto an unfortunate victim and drown it. An adult alligator can produce an incredible 2,000 PSI bite force that’s equal to a jaguar!
Small prey is the preferred choice, something they can quickly eat so other alligators can’t take it from them. Fish, birds, frogs, and turtles comprise a large part of an adult (over six feet long) alligator’s diet. They only need to eat once a week to survive.
Young alligators under four feet long chiefly prey on snails, small fish, and crustaceans, but small passing dogs and cats also look like fair game to them.
Cannibalism is not unheard of in the alligator world. As abhorrent as it appears, a hungry adult alligator won’t think twice about eating a smaller alligator.
Alligators live in wetlands, lakes, coastal marshes, residential ponds, and lakes such as golf course ponds. They’re freshwater reptiles without salt glands, so they can’t live in the sea. However, officials in the Cherry Grove area of North Myrtle Beach reported a 5-foot-long alligator in the surf. Experts believe it had lost its bearings, so North Myrtle Beach Animal Control relocated it to a freshwater location.
Ectothermic alligators rely on outside temperature to regulate their body heat. That’s why they bask on sunny days and spend time in cool water when it’s boiling. Of course, this is when people also like to swim, so it can lead to clashes.
Alligators are most active when the temperature hits 82-92 degrees Fahrenheit and stop feeding when it drops to below 70. Below 55, they become dormant and enter a type of semi-hibernation until temperatures rise again.
What to Do With an Alligator in Horry County
If an alligator becomes a nuisance in Horry County’s residential areas, an SCDNR-licensed trapper will remove it to a wilder location. Euthanasia is the fate of alligators that show aggression towards humans, and that’s why it’s not a good idea to feed alligators. It makes them less wary of humans and leads to a conflict where one side is injured or killed.
Is It Safe to Swim in Horry County?
Horry County is home to its fair share of alligators, and they’re simply part of the local wildlife.
It’s not safe to swim in any water with alligator sightings, and swimmers should think twice about entering murky lakes or any body of water with overhanging vegetation, and certainly not at night.
Alligators in Horry County rarely attack humans, but it’s not unheard of. Swimmers take a risk when they plunge in to cool off in Horry County’s rivers, lakes, and murkier waterways. Sticking with designated areas, swimming pools, or the surf is much safer.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Donna Derrick
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