The story of orca pair Port and Starboard

Posted on 26 July 2021 By Anita Froneman

South Africans are avid whale watchers and many know the famous orca pair, Port and Starboard who frequent the country’s coastline. They are both males and are estimated to be about 20 years old.

We spoke to the man who named them and has followed their journey closely for many years. Dave Hurwitz, owner of Simon’s Town Boat Company in the Western Cape told us a bit more about the two.

How often have you seen them in the area over the years, and how often have you seen them this year?

Port and Starboard were first sighted in Lüderitz in 2009. I have kept a database of their movements since then. They have been sighted a total of 55 times, between Lüderitz and Port Elizabeth (appears to be the extent of their range). In 2020 (up until 10 July) they have been sighted nine times – seven of which was in False Bay.

For how long have they been coming to Cape Town?

They were first sighted in the Cape in 2015 – once offshore Cape Point, three times in False Bay and once in Gansbaai. I named them Port and Starboard because one of their dorsal fins flops over to the left and the other to the right. [‘Port’ and ‘starboard’ are nautical terms referring to the left hand side and the right hand side on ocean vessels].

The highest number of sightings since 2015 has been in False Bay, with 26 confirmed sightings on record.

Have you ever witnessed whales killing sharks? How common is it?

I have witnessed a predation and confirmed kill of a bronze whaler shark (copper shark), two separate attempts on Mola-Molas (ocean sunfish) and harassing a Bryde’s whale.

These animals are definitely specialist shark feeders as literally all locations where they have been sighted are known shark hotspots.

What is the most common whale to be sighted in the Cape?

The main species of whales that we see in Cape Town are Bryde’s whales (all year round), humpback and southern right whales (June to December).

What is the best time of the day for eager whale watchers to keep an eye on the water?

Any time of day is good for whale watching, either from land or by boat. For boat based whale watching, we offer two trips daily from late June until November at 10:30am and 2pm.

From land, I’d recommend a drive along the Atlantic Seaboard to Hout Bay, then over Chapman’s Peak and along the False Bay coast towards Cape Point – stopping at elevated lookout points along the way. Also, the Shark Spotters lookout point on Boyes drive (Muizenberg) is a great spot.

We look forward to resuming tours and will be offering special rates to locals so they too can get a dose of vitamin ‘SEA’! Come and enjoy False Bay, which is currently teeming with whales, Hurwitz adds.

Images: Dave Hurwitz

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