VANCOUVER, British Columbia, April 9 (UPI) -- A U.S. agency is investigating whether a killer whale found washed up on a beach was killed by the Canadian navy during training exercises, officials say.
Postmedia News reported Monday the investigation into the death of the 3-year-old orca is being conducted by the U.S. Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The bloodied and battered carcass was found on Long Beach in Washington state on Feb. 11, the news service said.
Investigators said it's too soon to say whether naval military exercises were to blame for the whale's demise. Tissue samples are being analyzed by experts at Oregon State University in an attempt to determine how the marine mammal died.
"In an investigation, you don't try to eliminate anything or focus on anything too early. Let the evidence lead you," Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told Postmedia.
Canadian military officials have confirmed the HMCS Ottawa was taking part in maneuvers in the Straits of Juan de Fuca Feb. 6 and deployed "two small underwater charges" as part of an anti-submarine warfare exercise.
The Royal Canadian Navy's policy is for naval ships' watch officers and lookouts to keep an eye out for marine mammals and cease operations if any come "within a certain range."
On Monday, a military spokeswoman released a letter from Rear Adm. Nigel Greenwood, commander of Maritime Forces Pacific, stating no live torpedoes or bombs are used in the strait.
The Toronto Star reported the killer whale's death is of particular concern because it was one of only about 86 orcas known to live in the region. The animals are a protected species.
"Even if it turns out there's absolutely no connection between naval exercises and the death of this animal, (the investigation) will add to the reservoir of the information we have," Gorman said.
The QMI Agency reported Gorman said the agency "take really seriously any kind of injury, or certainly death, in the population, as there are so few animals."
"They don't interbreed to any great degree ... so if you lose one or two animals, it's a serious threat to the overall health of the population," he said.