Animals are often first to sense coming earthquakes

Humans have always observed animal behavior as a way of protecting themselves from natural disasters, according to historical sources. The recent disaster in Southeast Asia was no exception. Animals were aware of the tsunami’s approach and headed for higher ground. No dead animal was found in Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park, the country’s largest nature reserve. On the Andaman and Nicobar islands, the tribes who have lived there since ancient times survived because they noticed the changed behavior of the birds, dolphins and reptiles. Although there has been no systematic research into the phenomenon, scientists claim that biology rather than any «sixth sense» is responsible. «A few hours before the earthquake, surface tremors are observable that emit high-frequency electromagnetic waves which can only be felt by animals due to their sensitive hearing,» explained Constantine Handras, president of the Panhellenic Veterinary Society. «When the animals pick up these vibrations, they start acting nervously.» Veterinary surgeon Katerina Loukaki claims that this ability could once have been possessed by humans. «What we call animal ‘instinct’ is their ability to detect the earth’s vibrations that precede a storm, a wave, an earthquake,» she said. «Since ancient times, animals have been observed to behave erratically before an earthquake. Humans may have once had the same ability, which was subsequently lost, just as to a large extent domestic pets who have lost their familiarity with the rhythms of the earth have done.» Recent Japanese research has shown that small rodents sense an earthquake 24 hours before it strikes. The researchers observed the behavior of mice that had been exposed to electrical and magnetic fields similar to those detected shortly before earth tremors begin, concluding that these animals can be used as earthquake «detectors.» Seismologists doubt that animal behavior is reliable enough to be used as an early warning system for earthquakes. Evthymios Lekkas, a professor of tectonics and geology at Athens University, said animals can sense vibrations long before humans are aware of them but we cannot make use of this. «Extensive experiments in China and Japan have shown that animals sometimes do ‘predict’ earthquakes, but sometimes they don’t. After the way animals behaved before a major earthquake in China in the 1970s, the view that animals could help gained credence. However, in the next major quake, the animals did not react in the same way.