Members of the public packed the C & P Coffee Company’s West Seattle coffee shop on December 6th to hear Dr. Clement Furlong talk about his research on Paraoxonase 1 (PON 1) and what recent findings might mean for the conservation of Puget Sound Killer Whales. The talk was part of a series of “Orca Talks” organized by Donna Sandstrom, Founder and Executive Director of Whale Trail and a member of Governor Inslee’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force.
PON 1 is an enzyme that helps the body break down organophosphates. It’s produced by most terrestrial mammals, but not by birds, amphibians, fish, or, as Furlong and his colleagues recently discovered, by marine mammals. This makes these animals more vulnerable to organophosphate pesticide exposure. In lab studies, mice who lack functional genes for PON 1 die at levels of exposure that are not harmful to normal mice.
Sandstrom invited the UW SRP to give the talk after learning about these results at a meeting of Governor Inslee’s Orca Recovery Task Force. Organophosphates like Chlorpyrifos are some of the most commonly used pesticides in the world and routinely applied to Washington State apple, wheat and strawberry crops.
For the 60 or so audience members at C & P, a highlight of the evening was recent footage of Puget Sound’s K Pod, seen four days earlier near West Seattle for the first time in the area this season. The footage showed a spectacular display of breaching at close range on all sides of the research vessel from which the recording was made. Mark Sears, who has been studying orcas locally for 43 years, presented the footage along with his daughter, Maya Sears.
It was a good reminder of why the science mattered.