Unusual Animal Behavior & Earthquake Prediction
by David Jay Brown
I began researching the strange and mysterious behaviors of animals that are often reported prior to earthquakes in 1996 as part of a collaboration with British biologist Rupert Sheldrake. The initial research that I did became the backbone for the section on this subject in Dr. Sheldrake’s bestselling book on the unexplained powers of animals, Dogs That Know When Their Owners are Coming Home. (This information was updated, with a summary of the earthquake data that has accumulated since Dogs That Know was published, in Dr. Sheldrake’s more recent book The Sense of Being Stared At.) Since I compiled more material than Dr. Sheldrake could fit into the section in his book on this subject, I summarized much of this material in an earlier version of this essay, portions of which have been widely reprinted in books, magazines, and numerous web sites on the Internet.
As a result of this article–which presently comes up as the first item on Google’s search engine when one types in the phrase “unusual animal behavior”–I have received many hundreds of reports from people all overthe world. Almost every time there is a major earthquake somewhere on the planet, I receive a number of reports, sometimes a dozen or more. The many anecdotes that I have received have been carefully saved in an ever-growing database. To follow is a revised and updated version of my earlier article, which incorporates material from the many reports that I have received, as well as a more thorough examination of the theories that have been proposed to explain this phenomenon, and a look into someof the new research findings.
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, homing pigeons have remarkable abilities to navigate to their desired location using abilities that are not fully understood.
Perhaps most significantly, Dr. Sheldrake and colleagues (such as myself) have demonstrated how some pets appear to anticipate the arrivalof their owner. Regardless of the time of day, some animals appear to sense when their human companion is returning, without receiving any known physical signals. The animals usually express this by waiting in the same spot each time–such as by the door or window–shortly before their owner arrives home. This research is documented In Dr. Sheldrake’s book on the unexplained powers of animals, Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home.
Researching the unexplained powers of animals with Dr. Sheldrake turned out to be an extremely fruitful endeavor. In the initial stages of our research, Dr. Sheldrake brought to my attention the following fact, which made a great impression on me. Animals have been very carefully studied In laboratory settings, as well as In the wild; however, the unique bond that forms between human and pet had never been carefully explored scientifically. This glaringly obvious, empty niche in the history of science, which had eluded me and many others, seemed to hold great promise.
When I began this research I already knew that many pet owners believe that they have powerful “psychic” bonds with their pets, and often describe their connection with the animal as “telepathic”. Dr. Dolittle isn’t the only person who claims to be able to communicate with animals;
many people say that they can do this, and, in fact, numerous books have been written on the subject. Some people claim that their pets have precognitive abilities, and, of course, others have noticed that some 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 at the time, working in the learning and memory lab on the fifth floor of the University of Southern California’s Neuroscience Building. I was working with three other graduate students and three calm rabbits. Suddenly the rabbits became noticeably agitated. They started hopping around in their cages wildly for around five minutes. Then 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 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 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 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.
This is ironic and unfortunate, because the USGS itself funded a Stanford Research Institute (SRI) study for several years, back in the early eighties, which showed promising results. inspired by China’s success. In 1975 William Kautz (Click here to read an interview with Kautz) and Leon Otis created “Project Earthquake Watch”. They recruited hundreds of volunteers from all over California to observe their animals for any unusual behavior, and call a toll-free hotline number to record their observations. Kautz and Otis got significant results–that is, before some earthquakes more people reported unusual animal behavior–but the USGS stopped funding the study for reasons that no on that I’ve spoken to so far seems to know. Even harder to understand is why today the official word from the USGS, and the National Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council, is that no form of earthquake prediction performs 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. In ancient Persia (what is now Iran) there were wise men who predicted earthquakes using a forecasting process that included digging wells, looking at the moon/stars, and observing animal behavior. That such strong support for the application of this knowledge still 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 United States.
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 classifieds, 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. I Interviewed Berkland (Click here to read the interview with Berkland), and spent many hours in the local library,