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Zoo Animals Sense Earthquake in Advance

There’s a long-held belief that animals sense earthquakes in advance, although the evidence is largely ‘anecdotal’ and thus many scientists remain skeptical. Well, here’s some more anecdotes to add to the list: the Smithsonian Zoo in Washington, D.C. has released a post-earthquake update in which it describes some of the unusual animal behaviour in the lead up to yesterday’s 5.9 quake:

The red ruffed lemurs sounded an alarm call about 15 minutes before the quake and then again just after it occurred.

…About five to ten seconds before the quake, many of the apes, including Kyle (an orangutan) and Kojo (a Western lowland gorilla), abandoned their food and climbed to the top of the tree-like structure in the exhibit.

About three seconds before the quake, Mandara (a gorilla) let out a shriek and collected her baby, Kibibi, and moved to the top of the tree structure as well.

Iris (an orangutan) began “belch vocalizing” — an unhappy/upset noise normally reserved for extreme irritation — before the quake and continued this vocalization following the quake.

…The Zoo has a flock of 64 flamingos. Just before the quake, the birds rushed about and grouped themselves together. They remained huddled during the quake.

Dr. Don Moore, the zoo’s associate director for animal care sciences, theorized that the animals were picking up on sounds or vibrations below the level of human perception. “I think given that they’re sensing it beforehand, they must be sensing the pre-rumbles that create some kind of vibration in the ground,” Moore said, “or hearing something we can’t hear.”

However, one interesting facet of the report is the revelation that the zoo’s pandas “did not appear to respond to the earthquake” – previous reports from earthquakes in China have suggested that the iconic bear species may have some ‘pre-quake perception’. Another fascinating behavioural insight from the report: the ducks and beavers jumped in the water at the onset of the earthquake and stayed in there until well after it was finished.

  1. Nowadays we have these
    Nowadays we have these psychic machines called seismometers 😉

    Seriously though, i’m left wondering whether people are just getting tempted to say that it’s some mysterious power just using the fact that humans don’t sense it that early as some sort of weird universal benchmark of normal ability.

    I’d be quite interested to know whether those animals reactions correlated with seismic wave activity prior to the main thrust of the quake. I mean, if you see a seismograph shaking, and a nearby animal howl’s, squeaks or barks it might just be that they felt the seismic waves. I can’t see any geologist getting too het up about it and I think my scepticism would mainly be about it being of any use. Without a seismograph an animal barking, squeaking or howling could be just an animal making a noise.

    My personal feeling is that this only becomes interesting if there was no geological activity prior to the quake, and since humans are notoriously bad at spotting anything much below 1.5-2 on the Richter scale there is quite a margin for animals to be more sensitive than us – hey, they usually are at everything else – better eyes, better ears, better noses. We only beat them on building IPads.

    I suspect this might be like someone getting excited because dogs seem to magically be able to tell which box the smelly cheese is in.

    I think we need to see if there were any minor quakes prior to the main quake.

  2. What are they “sensing”?
    I’ve long wondered about how accounts like this relate to other pre-crisis behaviors of animals. For example there were many reports before the tsunami a few years ago of animals fleeing to higher ground and avoiding drowning. What could they have been sensing, since some of those reports were not only far away from the earthquake itself, but the animals seemed to be anticipating the rising water specifically? (If they were simply responding to sub-sonic vibrations related to the earthquake, say, why didn’t they just huddle together, or respond frantically, as with some of the zoo animals a couple days ago? Why go to higher ground, specifically? It seems a stretch to suggest they sensed vibrations relating to the incoming waves–but who knows.)

    Even more mysteriously, I recall Rupert Sheldrake talking about stories of household pets in England during WWII sensing the arrival of V2 German rockets minutes beforehand. Since those rockets were traveling at supersonic speeds, there’s no obvious way they could have picked up incoming sound waves from them. So what were they ” sensing”?

    All in all, very intriguing–but alas, also very anecdotal, making these phenomena so easy to ignore….

  3. I’m not surprised
    Actually, I’m not surprised about 2 things. The first is that animals have anticipatory warning of an upcoming quake. The second is that scientists are not ready to give this serious consideration.

    I am sensitive to quakes, but only those over magnitude 6, and I often get warning pain in my legs up to 3 days in advance of bigger quakes. Unfortunately I am not able to forecast where the quake will occur, and even if I could, who would listen to me – just another nutcase. The most common symptom of earthquake sensitivity in humans seems to be screaming migraines. But it’s all just ‘anecdotal’ to no-one wants to listen.

    After much research into this, I am coming to the conclusion that the cause is the result of infrasound. This is produced by areas prior to a quake, tsunami et al – is multi-directional and, unfortunately, unstoppable, so there would seem to be no defence measures that could be taken. Naturally, it would depend on the resonance of the infrasound and the decibel value, as many things in nature such as waterfalls and pounding surf, not to mention diesel engines and aircraft also produce infrasound.

    Information is very hard to find, and most research seems to have been done on the effects on humans caused by wind-farms. If anyone has any more knowledge I’ll happily listen to it.

    Regards, Kathrinn

    1. China
      I remember seeing in some magazine an old poster made by the Chinese government –painted with that cool propaganda style– meant to instruct farmers on the natural hints they could use to forecast an imminent quake. One of them is paying attention to the animals.

      This was probably born out of necessity –not having enough resources to place seismometers covering all the risk zones in China– but it shows other cultures are (were) willing to pay attention to animal behavior and their ability to ‘sense’ disasters, even if the actual mechanism was/is not understood.

      1. Yeah. I think its important
        Yeah. I think its important to remember that cultural ‘knowledge’, some of which is more solid than other bits, gets replaced by newer understandings – including simply better techniques using technology. That doesn’t mean the old way didn’t have some better than random result though (especially if we are willing to just look at the affect and put aside the narratives surrounding it for the moment).

        I remember reading about early cancer research that was displaced by radiotherapy. There was seemingly some success by inducing high fever (and I mean very high – pretty much life threatening), perhaps due to the immune system being put under such stress by the infection that the cancer got caught up in the large immune response provoked. However, radiotherapy looked like it might be an answer to curing cancer back in its early days and the fever approach went out of fashion and was largely forgotten (what with no longer being taught).

        Natural disasters typically create physical changes prior to the main event. This is, after all, what allows us to implement escape plans etc. Some people get migraines before thunderstorms and im sure some people correlate their migraine with an earthquake that happens somewhere in the world within a week. Pinning down the difference is what’s important.

        My guess is that if a natural disaster has pre-warning events then one group of animals (given the diversity of animal sensory apparatus) is going to pick up on it, even if we need machines.

        However, thats just an explanation for the easily explained. There are plenty of stories that, when taken at face value, defy simple explanation and would require things like confirmation bias, but who knows.

    2. Infrasound
      Kathrinn–I’m sure that explains many of the cases, but how would infrasound explain those animals alongside India’s coastline sensing the impending tsunami, for example? Even if they somehow became aware of the tectonic movement (though some of the distances involved make that open to debate), why would that necessarily translate into the urge to seek higher ground (versus just running around like proverbial chickens with their heads cut off)? That’s one piece of the puzzle I can’t understand.

      1. Maybe …
        …animals are able to distinguish the different infrasounds which humans cannot perceive, and this warns them that *this* particular sound means a high wave of water will be approaching, thus higher ground would be a good thing to seek. (Rather like silent dog whistles used by humans).

        I don’t know this for sure – it’s just an idea – as I’m still trying to find information which will satisfy my own thoughts.

        Animals have more sensitive hearing than we do, so maybe they hear sounds we don’t hear and can distinguish between them.

        From what little I’ve been able to find so far, apparently infrasound doesn’t diminish with distance, so it wouldn’t matter how far away the animals were from the point of origin.

        Regards, Kathrinn

        1. That’s entirely
          That’s entirely possible–that they might be able to distinguish between different types of sounds. But I still have to wonder why–if they’ve had no previous experience with tsunamis at all–why they would interpret one set of sounds as suggesting they need to seek higher ground (as opposed to running around in circles, or banding together as a group, or howling wildly, etc.)? It almost seems as though they were pre-sensing something very specific–for which they’ve had no previous experience whatsoever. On strictly Pavlovian grounds, I have a hard time seeing a rational explanation for that. Not saying there isn’t one, just that I’m not seeing it.

  4. here in NJ
    we felt it around 2:15 PM and it shook everything, it is weird for it to be this strong on the east coast of the US but earthquakes are not unheard of. the fault line runs under my old elementary school, you can even see the crack go under the road.

    as for pets and other animals, several wild birds and even my own little hermit crabs let out a call a hour before the quake.

  5. Why are naysayers/skeptics so
    Why are naysayers/skeptics so confident in their denial of quite obvious anecdotal and logical evidence that animals sense impending earthquakes? Animals, reptiles, insects – the entire animal kingdom all have varying levels of senses and perceive things humans can’t. Just because skeptics can’t perceive or measure something themselves they automatically discount the phenomena. Certain dog breeds for example can smell single molecules while humans can’t – so their ability to smell is far superior to ours. Other animal’s vision is far superior to humans; birds have navigational abilities sensing the earth’s magnetic field. So why would certain animals not have the heightened senses necessary to sense the stress and tensions in the plates on the verge of release. Clearly just prior to an earthquake the tension has reached its maximum and this obviously must generate some type of sound, harmonic, or energy – much like a taught guitar string that is brushed against makes a sound – remember the earth is not static. The moons gravity, sun’s gravity, it’s spin, and who knows how many other factors are constantly interacting with the entire planet – twanging the taught guitar string of the plates about to bust loose.

    Dogs hear a dog whistle humans do not – so don’t be so quick to presume animals do not sense these energies and react nervously either due to their unusualness, instinct, perhaps even irritative quality that compels the animal to leave the area. Actually quite logical and only our arrogance of belittling nature as inferior to us makes us believe animals cannot sense the impending quake solely because we so far are unable to using our scientific tools or our own senses – except for those of us who occasionally do but are not believed. Our technology and science advances daily with new discoveries and innovations making our beliefs from yesterday obsolete and often quite silly.

    1. Hi Greg H.
      Thank you for your post. It is reassuring to know that there are people like you in the world who are prepared to entertain the possibility that abilities exist which at present we don’t understand because humans (in general) don’t have them themselves, nor do they have their precious machines for measuring them.

      I know I am quake sensitive (much as I might wish otherwise), and have 18 months of documented evidence to back up my claim (if anyone wants to see it) – I do not imagine it, or suffer pain and then link it to some happening maybe a week away because it’s a convenient excuse.

      We had a 5.6 magnitude quake only 36 miles away from my town earlier this year – we all felt the shaking, although the magnitude was too low to give me warning pain of that one. It was followed an hour later by a 2.8 mag tremor which none of us felt, but my little dog did, running to me shaking and needing reassurance. I didn’t know about the quake until I saw it listed later on the quake site, but she obviously felt it, or something associated with it.

      I also live in a cyclone prone area, and one sign that an approaching storm has us in its sights is that 12 hours before its arrival ALL birds totally disappear. Some fly inland and some go into hiding. Non-human species are much more savvy about natural events (maybe I need to put myself in that category!!), and it is wrong to dismiss these things out of hand. Thank you for not doing so.

      Regards, Kathrinn.

  6. Gonna use the dreaded word… Quantum!! ; )
    There shouldn’t be any doubt that certain animals have sharper, and in some cases completely different, senses to us domesticated primates. Come on – our scientific instruments have demonstrated this.
    So where is the issue? Strangely I’m starting to get the impression that some, but not all, skeptics seem to be developing an anti-nature world-view and, mix that in with their inherent neophobic attitude, we appear to have a very vocal group evolving who seem to be running scarily parallel to the fundementalists in their perspective.
    I’m not one of these types therefore I’ll throw this out there (“and why not”, the great Barry Norman once said): What if certain animals experience time differently to us domesticated primates and, without the rational circuits that have evolved in human minds, they possess a non-linear, non-local quantum awareness that causes them to be aware of a situation developing in advance and act accordingly?
    Come on – what’s wrong with asking the question?

    1. Devil’s advocate
      Playing devil’s advocate here: if animals do have a certain sense of precognition that endows them to sense impending disasters ahead of time, then what prevents a gazelle from sensing the crouching lioness that’s about to pounce and kill it?

      So, we would have to also acknowledge a ‘cloaking’ mechanism for the lioness that ‘jams’ the precognitive sense of the gazelle, in order for Darwin to be at peace on his grave 😉

      1. indonesian tsunami
        when the tsunami hit in Indonesia a few years back, the elephants they use to haul trees and such sensed it a week in advance. Their keepers followed them to reclaim them to a higher ground and by the time they found them the tsunami had hit. By following the elephants, their handlers survived as well.

  7. Pets often “sense’ the
    Pets often “sense’ the presence of haunting spirits in homes before the human occupants get the more obvious sensory clues. The animal sensed clues are probably something measurable but we do not yet have the device to accurately measure it though the measuring devices are catching up. The “Mel Meter” EMF detectors are now a part of every ghost buster’s kit, and the better heeled have UV and IR cameras, and of course EVP voice recorders. I watched a recent episode of Ghost Adventures during which they used an ultra sensitive reflector dish sound amplifier to have two way conversations between the deceased and the ghost hunters.

    Whatever the animals are sensing is measurable, at least by them which probably means it is measurable period. We just haven’t caught up yet. The use of the term “extrasensory” is becoming dated now. You still hear it used pejoratively or slightingly to indicate the user’s skepticism, but it is becoming obvious now that nothing is extra sensory – it is just a matter of the senses not being used sensitively enough.

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