Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bird Mortality at Tailings Ponds

Magazine articles or media reports are done to catch the audience’s attention. In this blog I will compare and contrast a primary source study and a secondary source news article. The article I located was called: “Birds Dying in Oilsands at 30 Times the Rate Reported, Says Study” written by Bob Weber at the Toronto Star. The article discussed differences between bird mortality rates before a study was done and after the study was completed. The study completed was: “Annual Bird Mortality in the Bitumen Tailings Ponds in Northeastern Alberta, Canada” done by Kevin P. Timoney and Robert A. Ronconi. The primary and the secondary sources of this information had many differences as well as similarities.
Some of the differences I noticed in the secondary article include: quotations were very small as opposed to the full sentences included in the primary source and much of the information was left out including numbers and some important procedure information. For example, there is one quotation where I believe the whole quotation would have been more effective for the readers understanding of the material. “It’s basically ad hoc” (Toronto Star 2010) is not located in the text word for word. The quotation in the primary source: “The ad hoc monitoring by industry, sanctioned by government, is inconsistent, cannot answer these questions, and undoubtedly underestimates actual mortality.” (Timoney and Ronconi 2010) I feel gives better understanding of the material. This is a large difference and putting in the original quote would have been more effective to show how the government needs to take responsibility on this issue. Another difference in the primary and secondary sources is the amount of information. However, I did expect lack of information because newspaper articles are suppose to be brief and to the point to keep the readers attention. Although I agree with this method of sparking people’s interest I understood the problem with mortality rates in birds much better after reading the primary source. Much of the full information including numbers and experimental procedures was left out. For example, the only numbers included in the article were the annual average before the study of 65 deaths per year and the average number after the study of 1973 deaths per year. However, in the study they were more specific saying that 43 different species of birds died over the years in tailings ponds as well as the numbers of average deaths. Also, I was upset to see that the fact that millions of birds migrate through the northeastern Alberta area each year was not mentioned. Comparing this to how many deaths there actually were is an important part of the study but it was not included in the newspaper article. Finally, there was also some procedure information that would seem important to a study that the newspaper article did not include. An example of this would be that Timoney looked at three separate ponds where as in the article they just say “ponds” (Toronto Star 2010). Also, I feel like it would be important to have included that 1.4 of the water was tailings or to include that birds dying before spring and fall migration were not included in the study. There seem to be a lot of differences but let’s look at similarities as well.
The similarities in the two articles include: information about inaccuracy problems and the writers seem to have the same opinion. I was pleased to see the newspaper article included the uncertainties in mortality estimation. The article includes that no observations of birds were done at night time and also birds that sank into the tailings ponds were not included because they cannot be seen. Also, it was mentioned in both that landing in the tailings can have a larger affect on endangered species or some birds that leave with contamination can bring it back to their habitat and infect others. I was also very impressed to see that the paper was not strengthening these claims to make it seems like the study done was very accurate. Although this does support that the mortality rate of birds is much higher then can be studied. This support makes the reader more concerned and thus, more interested in the article. Another large similarity I found was both Bob Weber and Timoney stated the facts and did not directly give opinions about how the government won’t take responsibility. Although from both of their writing it was easy to see they both felt the Government was not taking the responsibility he should be for the mortality rates on birds and they both felt that something more needed to be done to monitor and reduce the rates.
In conclusion, we see that a primary source study and a secondary source article are very different from one another but they are based on the same ideas. Its my opinion that to understand the situation you must read the primary source if nothing else.

Kevin P. Timoney and Robert A. Ronconi (2010). Annual Bird Mortality in The Bitumen Tailings Ponds in Northeastern Alberta, Canada. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology

Bob Weber (2010). Birds Dying in Oilsands at 30 Times the Rate Reported, Says Study. The Toronto Star


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