Whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea, belonging to the shark species, whale sharks can grow to be almost 40 feet long. Their massive mouths are 5-feet wide, and they have 300 teeth! Are these the deadliest animals on earth? No, not at all. Whale sharks are filter-feeders, similar to whales and sift through the water for zooplankton, tiny animals that are high in protein. It is unlikely you would see a whale shark off the coast of Georgia because they often live deep in the ocean, they can dive 6,000 feet deep!
If you did want to see a whale shark up close, then Georgia is the place to be because the Georgia Aquarium is the only place in North America that has whale sharks on display. You can even buy tickets to swim with them if you are that brave! Whale sharks are peaceful so what animals in Georgia should we be concerned with? What are the deadliest animals in Georgia?
Are Sharks the Deadliest Animals in Georgia?
Sharks definitely have a bad reputation but worldwide there are only an average of 10 shark-related fatalities a year. A recent shark attack happened off of Tybee Island in Georgia where a surf instructor was sitting on his board when a shark bit his leg. He was able to get back to shore and was transported to the hospital where he received stitches. The kinds of sharks most commonly seen in Georgia waters are the lemon, nurse, and hammerhead sharks. Lifeguards at beaches are trained to keep an eye out for sharks so be sure to pay attention to any posted warnings.
What Other Dangerous Marine Animals Are in Georgia?
Stingrays, jellyfish, and the Portuguese man o’ war all have venomous stingers.
- Stingrays: These are large flat “rays” that are considered cartilage fish. They often live in the shallow waters, hidden in the sand, so it is not uncommon for a beachgoer to accidentally step on one, startling it and getting stung. It is recommended to do the “Stingray Shuffle” when entering the water, to alert any settled stingrays. In 2017, one report said there was an abnormally high number of stingray stings on Tybee Island, GA, with 20 occurring in one week. They said they typically have closer to five all summer season. Although sting ray stings are painful, there have not been any reported fatalities in Georgia.
- Jellyfish: Can use their tentacles to sting a swimmer or surfer. People have also been known to accidentally step on one that has washed ashore. Jellyfish injuries are common in Georgia but not fatal. In other countries, a sting from a box jellyfish, the most venomous jellyfish in the world, can be deadly with 20-40 reported fatalities a year just in the Philippines. So these are definitely a deadly animal!
- Portuguese man o’ war: Although these look like jellyfish they are actually siphonophores, a group of organisms living together in one system. They have a clear balloon like “float” that keeps the organism floating on the ocean and then a bright blue body with long skinny tentacles dangling off. The tentacles are covered with stingers and if you contact one they are very painful. They often float in groups so are easier to detect but if they wash up on shore they may be easy to step on and accidentally get stung. Their stings are painful but rarely deadly in the U.S.
Sting Rays is also a delicious seafood restaurant on Tybee Island! Fried alligator strips anyone?
What Dangerous Land Animals Are in Georgia?
The land animal that comes to mind is also a water animal, but not from the ocean. The swamps of Georgia are filled with American alligators! Venomous snakes are also plentiful in Georgia and don’t forget the two venomous spiders, black widows, and brown recluse.
- Alligators: The largest concentration of Georgia’s alligators live in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. The rangers occasionally count the gators by waiting until night (I would not want that job) and they count the pairs of red eyes. The last estimate was between 10,000-13,000 gators in the refuge. There are very few alligator attacks in Georgia, with only eight on record from 1980-2007, but one attack in 2007 was the first documented fatality in the state. An 83-year-old woman was attacked in Skidway Island, just east of Savanna. Details of the attack are unknown but she was a Canadian woman that was house-sitting for her son and may not have been familiar with the area. Her body was found in a pond in the gated community where she was house-sitting. This is a tragic story but they are extremely rare with the number of alligator-related fatalities in the US averaging only one a year.
- Venomous Snakes: There are six kinds of venomous snakes in Georgia:
These snakes can be found throughout the state including in urban areas so it is helpful to be acquainted with how to handle a snake encounter. Snakes in general want to be left alone with a high percentage of snake bites occurring when someone provokes or picks up a snake. In the US there are 7,000-8,000 venomous snake bites each year but on average only five of those are fatal. So, if you are bitten seek medical attention and follow your doctor’s orders.
- Venomous Spiders: The two most venomous spiders in Georgia are the black widow and the brown recluse. Both can have a painful bite but the brown recluse can leave a nasty sore that may take weeks to heal. The black widow bite would be very painful as well and may include symptoms of muscle cramps, abdominal pain, weakness, and tremors. Seeking medical attention after a suspected spider bite is always the best course of action. Spider bites are frequent but there are only an average of 7 fatalities a year due to venomous spiders.
Is the Swan the Deadliest Animal in Georgia?
Wait, what? A swan? When it is caught on video you just have to share it. Golf courses are known for water hazards and sand traps but what about a giant swan on the ninth hole! A man golfing in southern Georgia must have upset a large white swan in some way because the video shows the swan attacking him, pecking at his legs as he dances out of the way in surprise. He was not injured but he may need a new group of friends since his buddies stood by and laughed vs. pitching in to fend off the wild swan!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Joeprachatree/Shutterstock.com
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.