A day after the east coast earthquake (now forever to be remembered by me as “the best birthday present ever!”), the Smithsonian issued a press release about the behavior of animals at the National Zoo, more than 80 miles from the epicenter of the quake. Some media outlets reported on the news as “animals go wild”, “animals went berserk”. Many said “how animals predicted the quake”.
All of those are wrong.
What really happened?
Let’s look at the observations given. First, for several observations, it is not clear if the animals are reacting to the quake itself or any precursors. But in some cases, the times prior to the quake are given. So, not that many animals are indicating something BEFORE the quake but just reacting TO the quake. We all reacted to it too, no different than the howler monkey, snakes, cuttlefish, ducks, beavers, lions, tiger, and deer who appeared agitated or surprised. In the case of the apes, observations suggest that just seconds before (3-10 seconds), apes moved away or vocalized. This is a very short time before and they could have felt the initial waves seconds sooner than the observers. Not much help there. The flamingos flocked “just before” the quake. Again, they perhaps could feel the initial waves sooner and reacted. The lemurs were the most interesting, with reports that they sounded an alarm call 15 before the quake. This is one observation, though and we don’t know for sure if they were responding to anything regarding the quake. All-in-all, it’s interesting to see how the animals reacted. I would disagree that the went wild or berserk. To say they predicted it is very poorly supported. All we can say is the lemurs were observed to notice something alarming possibly 15 minutes prior to the quake: can’t say it was the quake or that they predicted it.
The media went overboard on this story.
Theory: Animals exhibit unusual behavior prior to an earthquake
While there are huge amounts of anecdotal data regarding animal behaviors before an earthquake, much of these observations are post hoc (after the fact) and so are not of good quality. However, there is some laboratory and controlled observations that show rather convincingly that animals do respond to environmental signals that are not detectable to humans. In some cases, certain earthquakes might produce precursor signals or environmental changes that animals may detect.
The most important point to consider is that each earthquake is unique and there are many variables at play. Therefore, animal behavior might give us an indication that an earthquake is coming, it will never be a reliable indicator for all quake activity. It is not reasonable to claim animal observations will “go far” in saving lives prior to an earthquake. We’d be running for safety all the time.
Now seems to be an opportune time to point you a summary of research into earthquake precursors and the state of predicting quakes. This was published in The Anomalist #13: Intermediate States but is also reproduced in three parts on this blog. Check out part one about animal behavior, earth sounds, paranormal-like effects and groundwater changes. Part two discusses earthquake weather and earthquake lights. Part three explains what may be happening before the fault ruptures and how this may relate to anomalous earthquake-related phenomena (AERP) including ion formation and aerosols, earth currents, changes to the magnetic field and the seismo-ionospheric theory. Then, it provides possible explanations to what has been observed.
This summary is in no way definitive and I’m sure there is much wrong with it. I also expect that much more research has been published since 2007 that either supports or disputes it. I found the subject to be an interesting look into the complexities of nature and how we may be peering in the wrong direction and missing some curious phenomena.