Scientists have yet to discover a way to predict earthquakes. It is possible to identify vulnerable areas and even to pinpoint regions where an earthquake is likely. But despite extensive research, no one can yet say where and when an earthquake will occur. However, there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence to suggest that animals can sense that an earthquake is about to strike.
China and Japan
There is now a great deal of research into animal behaviour to establish whether any species can provide a natural early warning system for people. Most of this research is being conducted in Japan and China. If the scientists are successful then their work could save thousands of lives in the future.
Bird behaviour is of great interest to scientists, particularly following the Oklahoma earthquake earlier this year. The quake struck 3 September and at 7. 03 am. Shortly afterwards it was discovered that radar images showed that there had been a large increase in the number of wild birds taking off 15 minutes before the quake. Does this mean that the birds knew what was about to happen?
The radar images have certainly sparked a debate. Some experts believe that the number of birds in flight was coincidental and that the behaviour was typical for that time of the morning. Many birds often take flight just before sunrise and sunrise was at 7. 04 that particular morning.
Earthquake Prediction or Coincidence?
The radar images from the morning of the quake were compared to those for the same time 24 hours later. The weather conditions were similar and so it was possible to make a direct comparison between the two days. There was an increase in the number of birds in flight at about the same time on both days but there was much more activity on the morning of the quake.
If the birds were reacting to the imminent arrival of the earthquake, then it would probably have been because they detected the P wave which precedes the main event. This travels at high speed from the source of the quake and so arrives before the larger S wave. Humans are unable to sense the P wave but animals with sharper senses are able to feel it.
Research in Peru
Support for the theory of animal prediction has come from researchers in Peru who have been using motion-activated cameras to record animal behaviour. These cameras recorded five or less animal sightings each day in the 23 days prior to a magnitude 7. 0 quake in 2011. This was compared to five to fifteen sightings before that time. For five of the seven days immediately before the quake there were no movements at all recorded.
In 1975 the Chinese city of Haicheng was in the process of being evacuated when a magnitude 7. 3 earthquake struck. There had been many strange animal behaviours reported in the weeks before the quake. These included geese flying into trees for no apparent reason and pigs biting each other.
Perhaps animals and wild birds really do know something that we don't.