Monday, June 29, 2009

What Does It Mean that Dolphins are in the Sound? Who Knows?

Three marine biologists quoted by Newsday today don't necessarily think that the presence of 200 or so bottlenose dolphins in the western end of Long Island Sound in late June means that the Sound is cleaner. But that didn't jibe with Newsday's conception of the story, so they wrote it the way they wanted.

"Scientists: Dolphins' local swim a good sign for LI," reads the headline. And the lede paragraph says:

The bottlenose dolphins who swam into the Long Island Sound while they chased fish are a good sign that the sound's waters are clean and well stocked with herring, scientists said Monday.

But here's what the scientists actually said ...

Scientist number 1:

"They will go where herring are in higher numbers," Sanford said, adding that if there are more herring in the Sound, "it could be suggested that water quality has improved."

Scientist number 2:

The dolphins' appearance could indicate a return to a former habitat, or it could be a flukish occurrence, Wise said.

"It's not as if we have an animal here that's never been here before. It's just that in recent times they haven't been abundant in this part of their range," Wise said. "Does this mark a reversal of that trend? Too early to say."

Scientists number 3:

"They might've just taken a left turn," Auster said. "They'll make their way out again when their plates are empty."

So which scientists exactly think that the dolphins indicate that the Sound is cleaner?

Which doesn't mean we shouldn't be pleased and delighted that they're here. But we should characterize it for what it is, and we should acknowledge that we really don't know why they're here now.


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