February 18, 2007

Do Animals Predict Earthquakes?

Possibly, argues Matt Kaplan in the Feb. 17 issue of New Scientist magazine.

"The idea that animals can predict earthquakes has ancient origins. Way back in 373 BC the Greek historian Thucydides recorded descriptions of rats, dogs, snakes and weasels deserting the city of Helice in droves just days before an earthquake of catastrophic proportions hit. It was the first in a long line of such anecdotes. There is also no shortage of theories about what might be going on. What has been lacking, however, is any real scientific data linking strange animal behaviour with earthquakes."

He reports that an unsuccessful study by Stanley Coren, psychologist at the University of British Columbia of dogs & depression yielded instead some intriguing insight into how / if animals -- dogs -- can predict earthquakes.

Instead of noticing any difference in their affect due to the season, Coren did notice that almost half of the dogs were agitated and extra-active the day before an earthquake about 200 miles away. The increase in both activity and anxiety were well above chance and may have been due to the impending earthquake. Coren speculated that the dogs may have heard vibrations: this was supported by the fact that the hearing-impaired dogs didn't show signs of agitation, while dogs with small heads had higher levels of agitation than the average (dogs with small heads apparently are more sensitive to high frequency sounds than others).

Kaplan concludes the Coren analysis: "Taken together, Coren's results present an alluring hypothesis. He suggests that the kind of high-frequency sounds that many dogs can hear are emitted before an impending earthquake, perhaps from rocks scraping or breaking underground."

So. Not resounding evidence, but definitely intriguing.

"Beastly powers; Surely it is too much to believe that animals can predict earthquakes when we haven't cracked it ourselves?" Matt Kaplan, New Scientist, February 17, 2007, pg. 34-37. Full-text not free online at the New Scientist web site, but you can get it from LexisNexis or Academic Search Premier (after a 1-month embargo)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here in Georgia about 2 or 3 years ago an earthquake hit about 5:00 or so in the morning. The earthquake started in Kentucky and was felt all the way here. I live about 35 miles north east of Atlanta..we have cows right down the road and about two days before the earth quake hit, I commented to my children that the cows were mooing like crazy...seems to me that they must have heard or felt something that we didn't before the rumbles were felt by humans. So if you have animals or cows around always take note of their irregular behavior!! Lora