Hilton Head Island may be known for its beaches and golf courses, but one feature that draws visitors back here time and again is our abundant wildlife. Birds abound; alligators sun themselves on the banks of a golf course lagoon; dolphin chase a boat’s wake; loggerhead turtles nest on the sandy shore; deer hide in a forest preserve.
For anyone who appreciates our furred and finned friends, we ask that you observe a few courtesies and customs.
Alligator: A popular creature in terms of curiosity, Hilton Head’s gators are frequently spotted sunning themselves on the banks of our many lagoons. Every once in awhile, however, they will stray – one was recently captured out on Hwy. 278 in Bluffton, trying to cross the road. Fall and spring are the best times for gator spotting because they like to emerge from their waters to regulate their body temperature. Although they look harmless in their lethargy, they are still quite dangerous, particularly to small dogs and children who are naturally unaware of the potential dangers. Best to keep your distance and as many a sign will tell you, don’t feed the gators!
Deer: Hilton Head is not a premier destination for deer hunters. You won’t see any eight-point bucks here. Our deer are small. Due to generations of inbreeding, our deer only grow to be about 130 to 200 pounds. Unfortunately, they are overpopulated and victims of real estate development; as the Island becomes more built-up and populated, their living space not only becomes smaller, but closer to our homes. It is not unusual to find one feeding on flowers and bushes or bounding across a dimly lit road. They tend to come out at night, so be extra careful driving our dimly lit roads.
Dolphin: Dolphins are very friendly creatures and are extremely common in these waters, so don’t be frightened when they swim up close to your watercraft. However, you must not touch or feed the dolphins. They are protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act that strictly prohibits the feeding, touching and harassment of dolphins. If you are reported, you may face either civil or criminal penalties. On the other hand, the feds cannot stop the dolphins from approaching you!
Loggerhead Turtles: Another protected creature, the loggerhead turtle makes Hilton Head home in order to nest. Every year, peaking in June and July, mother turtles make their way at night to our shore’s high tide mark to lay anywhere from 80 to 150 eggs which will hatch about two months later. In an attempt to protect this endangered species, residents on Hilton Head have taken it upon themselves to help insure that as many hatchlings as possible make it back to the sea. If you come across an unmarked nest, do not touch it (again, fines and/or jail time can be enforced). Immediately contact the Coastal Discovery Museum (843-689-6767) or the sheriff’s Department (843-785-3618).