Unusual Animal Behavior & Earthquake Prediction
by David Jay Brown
There is much anecdotal evidence suggesting that some animals have the ability to detect sensory stimuli which humans can not-- even with our most sensitive technological instruments. That many animals have access to a perceptual range exceeding those of humans is scientifically well-established, but it also appears that many animals have sensory abilities not currently explained by traditional science.
For example, British biologist Rupert Sheldrake has documented on videotape how some dogs appear to anticipate the arrival of their owner. Regardless of the time of day that the owner begins their journey home, some of these dogs appear to sense their human companion coming without receiving any known physical signals, and wait for them next to the door or window. Homing pigeons also have remarkable abilities to navigate to their desired location using abilities that are not fully understood.
Many pet owners claim that they have powerful "psychic" bonds with their pets, and often describe their connection with the animal as "telepathic". Like Dr. Dolittle, a lot of people believe that they can communicate with animals. Some people even claim that their pets have precognitive abilities, while others notice their animals act in peculiar ways just before an earthquake strikes.
I personally experienced the latter phenomenon myself prior to a Los Angeles earthquake in 1990. I was in graduate school working on the fifth floor of the USC Neuroscience Building's Learning and Memory lab with several other students, and three calm rabbits. Suddenly the rabbits became noticeably agitated. They started hopping around in their cages wildly for around five minutes, right before a 5.2 earthquake sent the whole building rolling and swaying.
After my experience with the anxious rabbits I have learned that, since the beginning of recorded history, virtually every culture in the world has reported observations of unusual animal behavior prior to earthquakes (and-- to a lesser extent-- volcanic eruptions), but conventional science has never been able to adequately explain the phenomenon. Nonetheless, the Chinese and Japanese have employed such sightings for hundreds of years as an important part of a nationally-orchestrated earthquake warning systems, with some success.
Perhaps most significantly, on February 4, 1975 the Chinese successfully evacuated the city of Haicheng several hours before a 7.3 magnitude earthquake-- based primarily on observations of unusual animal behavior. 90% of the city's structures were destroyed in the quake, but the entire city had been evacuated before it struck. Nearly 90,000 lives were saved. Since then China has been hit by a number of major quakes that they were not as prepared for, and they have also had some false alarms, so their system is certainly not fool-proof. But never-the-less, they have made a remarkable achievement by demonstrating that earthquakes do not always strike without warning.
Helmut Tributsch's beautifully written classic work on the subject of earthquakes and unusual animal behavior-- When the Snakes Awake-- details numerous consistent accounts of the phenomenon from all over the world. Although these behavior patterns are very well-documented, most geologists that I have spoken with at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) don't take it very seriously. The official word from the USGS is that there aren't any earthquake prediction techniques-- unusual animal behavior observations included-- which perform any better than chance.
In fact, the notion that odd animal behavior can help people predict earthquakes is perceived by most traditional geologists in the West as folklore, or an old wives tale, and is often cast into the same boat as sightings of poltergeists, Elvis, and the Loch Ness Monster. The ancient Greeks, on the other hand, considered an understanding of the relationship between unusual animal behavior and earthquakes to be an esoteric form of Secret Knowledge. That such strong support for the application of this knowledge exists in the East-- in long-lived civilizations like China and Japan-- is testimony to the reality of the phenomenon, as they have witnessed many more earthquakes in their long histories than has a comparatively young country like the U.S.
But not all Western geologists are close-minded with regard to the phenomenon. James Berkland-- a retired USGS geologist from Santa Clara County, California-- claims to be able to predict earthquakes with greater than 75% accuracy rate simply by counting the number of lost pet ads in the daily newspaper, and correlating this relationship to lunar-tide cycles. This maverick geologist, has been meticulously saving and counting lost pet ads for many years. Berkland says that the number of missing dogs and cats goes up significantly for as long as two weeks prior to an earthquake.
Gravitational variations due to the lunar cycles, he says, create "seismic windows" of greater earthquake probability. When the number of missing pets also suddenly rises, then-- bingo-- a quake is likely to happen. Berkland said he thinks the USGS won't accept unusual animal data because it doesn't jive with their current scientific paradigm and hypotheses, to which, he says, their precious egos are overly attached. (Researchers who attempt earthquake prediction are often lumped into the same category as fortune tellers and scam artists by traditional geologists.) It is not surprising then to hear that Berkland was suspended from his position as Santa Clara county geologist for claiming to predict earthquakes-- such as the 1989 Loma Prieta quake in Northern California, which was preceded by numerous reports of odd animal behavior.
Unusual behavior is difficult to define, and determining if there is a characteristic behavior is not a simple, clear-cut process, although there are some distinct patterns which have emerged. For example, an intense fear that appears to make some animals cry and bark for hours, and others flee in panic has been reported often. Equally characteristic is the apparent opposite effect of wild animals appearing confused, disoriented, and losing their usual fear of people. Some other common observations are that animals appear agitated, excited, nervous, overly aggressive, or seem to be trying to burrow or hide.
Although the majority of accounts pertain to dogs and cats, there are also many stories about other types of animals in the wild, on farms, and in zoos; including horses, cows, deer, goats, possums, rats, chickens, and other birds. The behavior has been reported in many other animal species as well, including fish, reptiles, and even insects. Deep sea fish, for example, have been caught close to the surface of the ocean on numerous occasions around Japan prior to earthquakes (Tributsch, 1982).
Some fish-- catfish in particular-- are reputed to become agitated before earthquakes, and at times have been reported to actually leap out of the water onto dry land. Snakes have been known to leave their underground places of hibernation in the middle of the winter prior to quakes, only to be found frozen on the surface of the snow. Mice are commonly reported to appear dazed before quakes, and allow themselves to easily be captured by hand. Homing pigeons are said to take much longer to navigate to their destination prior to earthquakes. Hens have been reported laying fewer eggs, or no eggs at all, and pigs have been observed aggressively trying to bite one another before earthquakes (Tributsch, 1982).
Bees have been seen evacuating their hive in a panic, minutes before an earthquake, and then not returning until fifteen minutes after the quake ended. Even creatures such as millipedes, leeches, squid, and ants have been reported to exhibit abnormal behavior prior to earthquakes (Miller, 1996).
These strange behaviors generally occur anywhere from moments to weeks in advance of a quake. Most of the people I have spoken with who have witnessed this phenomenon, observed the strange behavior within twenty-four hours of a quake, although some observations occurred more than a week before the quake struck. Berkland has suggested that there are possibly two primary precursory earthquake signals-- one several weeks before, and the other one just moments before the quake. A lot of reports appear to confirm this.
A number of theories have been proposed to explain this phenomenon, and what the precursory signals that the animals are picking up on might be. Because many animals possess auditory capacities beyond the human range, it has been suggested that some animals may be reacting to ultrasound emitted as microseisms from fracturing rock (Armstrong, 1969).
Another candidate is fluctuations in the earth's magnetic field. Because some animals have a sensitivity to variations in the earth's magnetic field (usually as a means of orientation), and since variations in the magnetic field occur near the epicenters of earthquakes (Chapman and Bartels, 1940), it has been suggested that this is what the animals are picking up on.
Marsha Adams, an independent earthquake researcher in San Francisco, claims to have developed sensors that measure low-frequency electromagnetic signals which allow her to predict earthquakes with over 90% accuracy. Adams suspects that low-frequency electromagnetic signals-- created by the fracturing of crystalline rock deep in the earth along fault lines-- are "biologically active", and that her instruments are picking up the same signals that sensitive animals do. As a result of this technology (whose details are a corporate secret), she says that her system makes unusual animal behavior observations obsolete.
Fish have a high degree of sensitivity to variations in electric fields, and because telluric current variations have also been noted before some earthquakes, Ulomov and Malashev have suggested that this is what the fish may be reacting to. Some organisms respond to changes in the polarity and concentration of atmospheric ions, and they suspect that this sensitivity enables some animals to detect the air-ionizing effects of radon released from the ground in advance of certain earthquakes.
Tributsch has suggested that a piezoelectric effect may be at work here. When certain crystals, such as quartz, are arranged in such a way that pressure is applied along certain of the crystal's axes, the distribution of positive and negative ions can shift slightly. In this way pressure changes produce electrical charging of the crystal's surfaces. On the average, the earth's crust consists of 15% quartz, and in certain areas it can be as high as 55%.
According to Tributsch, the piezoelectric effect of the quartz is capable of generating enough electrical energy to account for the creation of airborne ions before and during an earthquake. This electrostatic charging of aerosol particles may be what the animals are reacting to. Animals, also observed acting unusual in similar ways prior to thunderstorms, may have evolved a sensitivity to electrical changes in their environment (Tributsch, 1982).
The effects of radon gas on the level of air ionization explained above, can also be expected to change the field gradient, and dozens of animals have been shown to be sensitive to changes in the electric field gradient of the atmosphere (Chalmers, 1967). Other possibilities are that the animals are actually experiencing a form of pre-cognition, or they could be perceiving and responding to stimuli that currently science has no way to measure. (Support for the notion of pre-cognition is increased when one compares the reports of unusual animal behavior described in this article, with the even more puzzling reports of strange animal behavior reported in England during World War II. Dr. Sheldrake told me that animals were said to act unusual prior to aerial bomb raids, long before they could have possibly heard or felt the vibrations from the approaching aircrafts.)
Some people say that they feel an uncomfortable pressure in their head, or a persistent headache that lasts for weeks, which suddenly vanishes moments before an earthquake. Because magnetite has been found in some animal brains, Berkland thinks that it is possible that animals may be reacting to their own headaches caused by changes in the earth's electromagnetic field. He said that a dog was observed chewing on willow bark-- from which aspirin in derived-- prior to an earthquake, and he believes that this was an attempt by the dog to self-medicate himself for the headache. He also told me that some people with Multiple Sclerosis-- a disease caused by improper insulation around the electrically-conductive fibers of the nervous system-- experience an increase in symptoms weeks before an earthquake.
Other mysterious phenomena are often connected with earthquakes. The regular eruptions of geysers have been interrupted. Well levels have been reported to change, or the water in them has been known to become cloudy. Magnets have been said to temporarily lose their power. Many people report that there is suddenly an unexplainable stillness in the air, and that all around them becomes completely silent. Strange lights are often seen glowing from the earth, and unusual fogs have been reported. These phenomena are all consistent with the notion that the odd animal behavior may result from changes in the earth's electromagnetic field, or the release of electrically-charged particles due to intense pressure on crystalline rock. (More puzzling is that a number of people claim to have sighted UFO's hovering around earthquake sites.)
Another possibly related point of interest is that electrically-charged ionic particles have been shown to change neurotransmitter ratios in animal brains, and since charged ions may be released prior to some earthquakes, it has been suggested that this may explain the two seemingly-contradictory behavior patterns I discussed above, where in normally-calm pets seem to become frightened, and wild animals often appear to lose their sense of fear (Tributsch, 1982). These neurotransmitter changes could possibly help to explain another related phenomenon. I've noticed that earthquakes themselves (like solar eclipses) sometimes trigger an intense consciousness-altering experience. People often feel energized, emotionally open, and acutely sensitive following earthquakes. Powerful bonding experiences often occur between people in the aftermath of a quake, although this is likely to be true for any natural disaster that people share.
But subjectively earthquake experiences often take on dream-like qualities, or have a sense of unreality about them, perhaps because our most cherished notion of what is safe and solid in the world-- the very ground upon which we rest-- becomes wobbly and unstable. Our whole sense of reality is shaken with the earth, as one is suddenly lifted up out of the mundane, and thrust into the center of what seems an immensely important drama.
California and Japanese residents, like other people living along major fault zones on this planet, don't need to be reminded of the devastation that an earthquake can bring, and currently Western science doesn't have any reliable means of forecasting these earth-shaking events. Tens of thousands of lives are lost globally, and billions of dollars in property damage occur on average every year as a result of earthquakes. Any clues that may be used to help us predict when and where the next quake is coming should be approached with an open mind.
I am currently researching this phenomenon as part of a larger international study of the "psychic" powers of animals, and the material I gather will be used in a forth-coming book. Heading this project is revolutionary biologist Rupert Sheldrake, former Cambridge Don and research fellow of the Royal Society in England, and the author of such popular books as A New Science of Life, The Presence of the Past, Rebirth of Nature, and Seven Experiments that Could Change the World.
I am presently looking to get in touch with anyone who has observed unusual animal behavior prior to an earthquake, or who has experienced any type of paranormal phenomena with their pets. I can be reached at: P.O. Box 1082 Ben Lomond, California USA phone: (408) 336-1924 email: email@example.com
The Earthquake Prediction Page has lots of informative links on the subject.
James Berkland can be reached at: 14927 East Hills Drive San Jose, CA 95127 (408) 258-1192 A subscription to the newsletter Syzygy can be obtained for $40. Back issues are $4.00 Berkland's QuakeLine can be reached at: 1-900-844-JOLT ($1.49 per minute)
Marsha Adams' earthquake prediction service can be obtained through: Time Research Institute P.O. Box 620198 Woodside, CA 94062 (415) 851-1104
Ted Miller's Earthquake Prediction Handbook is a treasure trove of hard-to-find information on unusual animal behavior and earthquakes. It is available for $11.95 plus $3.00 (U.S. currency, $2.00 additional if outside USA) from: Info-Pub 4434 University Pkwy. Suite K-213 San Bernardino, California USA 92407
References and Further Reading:
Evernden, J.F. (ed.) Abnormal Animal Behavior Prior to Earthquakes. U.S. Dept. of Interior Geological Survey, Conference I. Convened under the auspices of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program, USGS, Menlo Park, CA, 23-24, September 1976.
Hatai, S. and Abe, N. "The Responses of the Catfish, Parasilurus ascotus, to Earthquakes." Proc. Imperial Acad. Japan, 8, 1932, pp. 374-378.
Miller, Ted, Earthquake Prediction Handbook, Info-Pub, 1996.
Sheldrake, R., Seven Experiments that Could Change the World, Riverhead Books, 1995.
Suyehiro, Y. "Unusual Behavior of Fishes to Earthquakes." In Scientific Report, Keikyu Aburatsubo Marine Park Aquarium, Vol. 1, 1968, pp. 4-11.
Suyehiro, Y. "Unusual Behavior of Fish to Earthquakes, II." In Scientific Report, Keikyu Aburatsubo Marine Park Aquarium, Vol. 4, 1972, pp. 13-14.
Tributsch, H., When the Snakes Awake, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1982. (Unfortunately this book is currently out of print. However, it can be found in most university science libraries.)
Ulomov, V.I. and Malashev, B.Z. "The Tashkent Earthquake of 26 April, 1966." Acad. Nauk. Uzbek, FAN, Tashkent, 1971.