Can Animals Sense Earthquakes and Tsunamis?

03/15/2011

Animals often seem to know things that people don't.  So far there have been few reports of animals sensing the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan this week, but with the thousands of missing people and looming threat of nuclear disaster, the focus has understandably not been on animals. In time, we might learn more about how the animals of Japan reacted to this recent geological nightmare.

We do know that animals in areas affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami most certainly did seem to sense that something disastrous and dangerous had happened.  Witnesses report wild animals such as elephants and monkeys moving towards higher ground as well as anxiety and distress in cattle, dogs and other domestic animals. Given the destructiveness of that disaster, surprisingly few dead animals were recovered.

Tsunami sign Can animals predict natural disasters?

While this might seem odd, if you think about the fact that many species naturally have senses that far more acute than those possessed by humans, it seems less strange.

Wild animals in particular need to have excellent senses of smell, sight, hearing and even the ability to sense minute vibrations, because those senses help them survive.  Many species perceive and use electromagnetic fields that are imperceptible to humans to navigate or find prey. 

As odd as this seems, whether it's simply the acuteness of the five known senses or a sixth sense that we humans don't possess, there's nothing paranormal or unnnatural about it.

In fact, some researches are studying the abilities of animals to sense such disasters so they can be used as an early warning system.

These videos discuss the reaction of animals to earthquakes and tsunamis.

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Photo by Chuck "Caveman" Coker via Flickr Creative Commons.


David Mizejewski is a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. His goal is to inspire others to appreciate the wonders of nature. Meet David >
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