Animals Predicting Earthquakes: Is It Possible?

In Japanese mythology, Oarfish, a large bony fish, is called the 'Messenger of the Sea-God's Palace' (Ryūgū-no-Tsukai). The appearance of this fish washed up on shores, spells doom, as it serves as an omen for earthquakes. Well, mythology has its own charm, but coming to present times, the link between animal behaviour and prediction of earthquakes seems to be a pertinent question in research. While most of us are quite certain that our pets tend to act a bit weird prior to earthquakes, these are just  assumptions, without any scientific base. But the question still persists, and if you hate incomplete facts, just go through the whole article!

Let's talk about oarfish (again!). It was reported that prior to the 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile (2010), several oarfish were spotted by onlookers, as they were stranded on the shore. Similarly, before the Tohoku Earthquake (2013) in Japan, 20 oarfish were spotted on the beach, washed up. These incidents seem to account for our assumptions about animals being able to sense earthquakes. So, how is it possible? Are the myths true afterall? Well, according to Kiyoshi Wadatsumi, a scientist who studies earthquakes, it is not unnatural, as "deep-sea fish living near the sea bottom are more sensitive to the movements of active faults than those near the surface of the sea."
       
The 1975 Haicheng Earthquake in China is one of those rare events when the prediction was successful, which was made after observing unusual changes in the behaviour of animals, as well as changes in groundwater and soil elevations. The circumstances preceding the earthquake saw the animals getting restless, chickens refusing to get inside their coops, rats behaving strangely, cows and horses acting weird, following which the officials raised an alert. Although the death toll was 2041, the timely evacuation prevented further damage.

Seismologist HeikoWoith's recently published paper in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, explores this very topic, as 729 reports of animals behaving abnormally, which were related to 160 earthquakes were studied. But most of those reports were simply anecdotes, rather than rigorous studies, and lacked required evidence according to Woith and his team. Out of numerous reports which were thoroughly examined by the team, only 14 such cases involved close examination over a longer duration. Woith suggested, "The animals may sense seismic waves—it could P, S or surface waves–generated by foreshocks. Another option could be secondary effects triggered by the foreshocks, like changes in groundwater or release of gases from the ground which might be sensed by the animals." Well, this is just the tip the iceberg, and hopefully we will get to know the whole story one day.

Post Written by - Lopamudra


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