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Animal Behavior Prior to Earthquakes

Chickens 2
Pet Birds I (Canaries)
Possum 1

57% (N=17) of those people who observed this phenomenon were currently pet owners, while 43% (N=13) were non-pet owners. Non-pet owners were referring to previously owned pets or farm animals, other people’s pets, and wild animals.

Types of Behaviors Noticed

The following descriptions and adjectives were used to describe the animal’s unusual pre-earthquake behavior:

barking repeatedly : (won’t stop, and for no apparent reason): 7 times with dogs.
appeared frightened or scared : 4 times with dogs. 2 times with cats.
was running around : 4 times with dogs. 1 time with a cat. 1 time with cows.
hiding or trying to hide : 3 times with dogs. 2 times with cats.
nervous ‘ : 1 time with wild birds. 1 time with pet bird. I time with dog.
missing or disappeared : 1 time with a dog. I time with a cat.
ran away_: 1 time with a dog. 1 time with a cat.
excited : I time with pet bird. 1 time with wild birds.
disoriented : I time with a dog. 1 time with a cat.
retreating into self : 1 time with a dog. 1 time with a cat.
restless : 2 times with dogs.
antsy and roaming more : 1 time for general farm animals– horses, cows, chickens, dogs, and cats.
acting schizy : I time with a cat.
freaking out : I time with a cat.
seemed agitated : 1 time with chickens.
acting crazy: I time with a dog.
whining : 1 time with a dog. 1 time with a cat.
running up and down trees _: I time with a cat.
appeared tense : 1 time with a dog.
looking and listening-: I time with a dog.
pecking one another aggressively : I time with wild birds.
closer to people : 1 time with a dog.
jumpy: 1 time with a dog.
skittish : 1 time with a dog.
flighty: 1 time with a dog.
acting uneasy : 1 time with cows.
act up: 1 time with cows.
wouldn’t eat : I time with cows.
shaking : I time in with a dog.
squirrelly : I time with a cat.
pacing : I time with a cat.
howling : 1 time with a cat.
stillness or silence : 1 time with wild birds.
in unusual place : 1 time with a cat.
in a usual place at an unusual time 1 time with a possum.
looking around inquisitively : 1 time with a dog.
wild animal out of habitat : 1 time with a possum.
unsettled : 1 time with a dog.
leaving as a flock just moments before an earthquake : 1 time with wild birds.

Lead Time Prior to the Earthquake that the Animal’s Unusual Behavior was Observed

The amount of lead time that the unusual behavior was observed prior to the earthquake ranged from several seconds to approximately a week, with the most frequent observations falling into the range of several minutes to several days. Lead time data for each type of animal are summarized in Table 1.

Table 1

Total 0-5 min 5 + min Hours Days Not Sure

Dogs 19 6 (32%) 3 (16%) 2 (10%) 5 (26%) 3 (16%)

Cats 7 2 (29%) 1 (14%) 3 (43%) 1 (14%)
Wild Birds 2 1 (50%) 1 (50%)
Cows 2 1 (50%) 1 (50%)
Chickens 2 1 (50%) 1(50%)

Pet Birds 1 1
Possums 1 1
Horses 1 1

People were often unsure of the amount of time, and had to estimate an approximation in retrospect. According to the reports, 32% (N=6) of the dogs behaved unusually less than 5 minutes prior to the earthquake. 16%
(N=3) did so over five minutes prior to the earthquake, but under an hour (approximately a 1/2 hour for one, ten minutes for the other two). 
10% (N=2) appeared to react more than an hour to a day in advance (approximately “a day” for each of the two dogs). 26% (N=5) did so for more than a day in advance to several days in advance, ranging from a day and a half to three or four days. One week was the longest approximate lead time reported for a dog. 16% (N=3) of the dog observers were unable to estimate the amount of time.

29% (N=2) of cat observers report to have witnessed the unusual behavior less than 5 minutes prior to the earthquake. 14% (N=I) acted unusual slightly longer in advance (3 to 6 minutes was the estimate). 43% (N=3) were longer than an hour, but under a day (1 to 1 1/2 hours was the estimate for one, and “a day” for the other two) in advance. 14% (N=I) of cat observations occurred between a day and week in advance of the earthquake (between several days and a week was the estimate).

In the two instances with wild birds the first report was between an hour to an hour and a half in advance, while the other was estimated to be a day to a day and a half in advance. With regard to the cows, one estimate was several hours, the other was two to three days. The chickens were reported to act about a minute or so in advance in one instance, and several hours in advance in another. In the one instance of someone’s pet birds (canaries) the lead time was estimated to be one or two days. The possum was reported to be out several hours before the earthquake in the middle of the afternoon. The horses were reported to be acting unusual several hours in advance of the earthquake.

Times and Locations of Earthquakes and Unusual Behavior

The majority of respondents were located in Santa Cruz County at the time that they observed the anomalous behavior.

In Santa Cruz County:

Santa Cruz 10
Watsonville 6
Aptos 3
Rio Del Mar 1
Capitola 1
Live Oak 1
Boulder Creek 1

Outside Santa Cruz County, but in California:

Salinas 1
San Jose 1
Sherman Oaks 1
Aromas 1
Correlates 1
Not Sure 1

Outside California:

Tacoma, WA 1

The majority of respondents were referring to the October 17, 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which was centered several miles north of the city of Santa Cruz. One person referred to the January 17, 1994 Northridge earthquake, which was centered several miles from her location in Sherman Oaks. The other respondents were unsure.

1989 Loma Prieta 18
1994 Northridge 1
Not Sure 1 1


Report Reliability

The subjective nature of survey responses inherently raises questions of reliability. A possible source of bias in this study may stem from a tendency for people to exaggerate an animal’s abilities due to their emotional attachment with the animal. Conversely, people who pay relatively little attention to animals may not observe them closely enough to be aware of these, perhaps, more subtle responses.

Bias could also result from either a belief in, or a ‘denial of the possibility that animals have the ability to predict earthquakes. Also, because these observations are all reported in retrospect, and are associated with a powerful and often upsetting event, bias may result from the accompanying shock or trauma which could alter one’s perception or memory of the experience.

It is beyond our current ability to know with any certainty how much these and other

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