ANIMALS PREDICT NATURAL DISASTERS?
I participate in an aspiring minds programme at Thomas Hardye School,
Dorset, England, and am doing the topic animals before a natural
disaster. Would you give me your opinions and a little information
on whether animal behavior could be used to predict natural disasters
like earthquakes, perhaps in low-income countries that can't afford
more modern technology?
Thank you for an intriguing question. The conventional wisdom is that
wild animals can instinctively detect impending natural disasters, such
as upcoming earthquakes and floods. Even people know that if it keeps
raining, flooding will probably occur, so no mystery there. However,
some animals are probably more sensitive to earth tremors than people
are and may be aware of an earthquake before us. Whether any of the
early warning signals from animal behavior preceding an earthquake would
be useful to people is doubtful.
clearly have superpowers that exceed anything people can do naturally.
Bats and dolphins can hear ultrasonic sounds; duckbill platypuses and
knifefishes can detect electrical impulses created by a prey animals
muscular activity; some birds and possibly sea turtles can navigate
using the magnetic field from the North Pole. Wondrous as these traits
may be, none are early detection systems for natural disasters.
I do not
doubt that many animals can detect the early tremors of an earthquake
before we can, which means they have the opportunity to react sooner.
But what do animal behaviors tell us? How is an animal fleeing danger
different from a person running for an exit during a fire? To credit
wildlife with a reasoned response to impending danger is problematic.
Following the Yellowstone National Park earthquake this June, I heard
tales about how grizzly bears and wolves "predicted" it hours
before it happened. Nice story, but accounts of wildlife predicting
natural disasters have flaws.
the storytellers implication is that the animals sensed the upcoming
disaster and this early detection system allowed them to take action
to save themselves. Most animals have a fight or flight response when
facing danger. As you cant fight an earthquake, the choices are
to hunker down or run. Do animals know exactly where to go during an
earthquake? Are they simply doing what we would do once were aware
of an approaching disaster? Run. Ive also heard people say that
dogs began barking before an earthquake hit their town. If I used that
metric in my neighborhood, I would be expecting earthquakes every day.
problem with these seemingly clairvoyant animals is that their psychic
powers are often based on behaviors people recall after the event. Some
animal behaviors happen frequently but are not remembered unless an
earthquake or tsunami follows. For example, someone seeing a skunk cross
the road probably wouldnt wonder why the skunk was crossing the
road. But if an earthquake shook the area five minutes later, the person
might conclude the skunk was making a preemptive move. If so, how did
the skunk know which way to go?
have been reported running inland to get away from a tsunami. Understandably.
Running inland from shoreline to forest, which would also be on higher
ground, is completely natural and not at all mystical. Any animal able
to do so would run away from the water. The same with sensing a trembling
earth. But their reactions give no guidance for people.
it when animals have powers beyond our own, as many do, with special
senses of detection that allow some to tune in to dramatic natural phenomena
before the fact. But how to turn this behavior into an early warning
system for humans is equivocal. The animals offer no lessons for us
regarding what to do in case of earthquake, tsunami, or other natural
disasters. They provide little guidance of what might befall us or where
we should seek safety. They just get to be frightened a few seconds
before the rest of us.
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