When talking about orcas in Clayoquot Sound, it is impossible to ignore the presence of T12A, Nitinat so frequently seen in our waters… Until last week.

On Thursday a male Biggs/Transient orca was found in Grapplers Inlet near Bamfield and a necropsy was conducted on Saturday. The whale was identified as T12A, Nitinat. Nitinat was seen in late August in seemingly good health. So far no word has been released on the cause of death and none was found in the initial necropsy.

Nitinat during the necropsy. You can really get a sense of his immense scale in this photo. Image by B. Gisborne

I’ve seen Nitinat several times in Clayoquot Sound but my most memorable experience was in late Winter 2016. He was travelling with the T109A’s and the  T41’s in Shelter Inlet. Nitinat was a massive whale and he made a close pass to our boat to check us out. His fin towered over where I was seated on the bow. The water poured off his sleek black body in sheets and he arched his back for a dive once he was satisfied with his inspection.

While the T109A’s and T41’s fed on a porpoise or seal he stayed on the periphery letting the females and youngsters get their fill. Afterwards he escorted the T41’s straight past our bow heading further into the inlet while the T109A’s travelled along the coast of Flores Island. We left them shortly after that with little light left in the sky. I am glad we spent every second we could with them, as this was the last time I encountered Nitinat.



With his magnificent size came a beautiful ripple in the trailing edge of his dorsal fin. It was a great identifying feature along with his other scars and the angle of his fin. That’s what I found made him easy to identify, there was a unique angle of his fin and distinctive tip that made his easy to spot from a distance.

Nitinat’s history goes back a long way in Clayoquot Sound. He was born in 1982 and reached 34 years of age. In the Strawberry Isle Marine Research Society’s “Bigg’s Killer Whales of Clayoquot Sound: A Field Guide”, Published in 2016, Nitinat is identified as the son of T12, Pachena who went missing in 2007 and is presumed deceased. Nitinat had a highly energetic sibling T12C, Vargas who was born in 1993 and only survived for 3 years. Nitinat was “the last known animal in [T12 Pachena] bloodline” but it is unknown how many calves he has sired. Seeing as he was being very friendly with the T41’s and T41As in February, we can hope for a calf late next spring – perhaps sired by Nitinat.

Whale watchers in Clayoquot Sound will not forget Nitinat anytime soon. I know I will remember him and his massive fin slicing through the water for many years to come.

Photographing T12A Nitinat in Shelter Inlet, February 2016. Photo by Steffi Munshaw.