rolling through microfilm collections of the San Jose Mercury News, counting lost pet ads in an attempt to check out Berkland’s claims. (Click here to read the scientific paper on this topic, written by Rupert Sheldrake and myself.)
Gravitational variations due to the lunar cycles, he says, create “seismic windows” of greater earthquake probability. When the number of missing pets also suddenly rises, then–bingo–a quake is likely to happen. Berkland said he thinks the USGS won’t accept unusual animal data because it doesn’t jive with their current scientific paradigm and hypotheses. (Researchers who attempt earthquake prediction are often lumped into the same category as fortune tellers and scam artists by traditional geologists.) It is not surprising then to hear that Berkland was suspended from his position as Santa Clara county geologist for claiming to predict earthquakes–such as the 1989 Loma Prieta quake in Northern California, which was preceded by numerous reports of odd animal behavior.
Unusual behavior is difficult to define, and determining if there is a characteristic behavior is not a simple, clear-cut process, although there are some distinct patterns which have emerged. For example, an intense fear that appears to make some animals cry and bark for hours, and others flee in panic has been reported often. Equally characteristic is the apparent opposite effect of wild animals appearing confused, disoriented, and losing their usual fear of people. Some other common observations are that animals appear agitated, excited, nervous, overly aggressive, or seem to be trying to burrow or hide.
For example, after a 6.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the Pacific North-West in 2001, a woman from Washington state wrote me saying that her goats were “running around frantically in circles. One goat was simply running in a tight circle, as tightly as he could…which I have never seen a goat do before. Then our indoor dog began barreling up and down the stairs and barking wildly. As I stood to go out and see what was going on, the earthquake hit.”
In 1996 I conducted a telephone survey of Santa Cruz County households to find out how many people have observed unusual animal behavior prior to earthquakes. Out of the 200 people randomly selected from the phone book, 15% told me they had observed an animal acting oddly before an earthquake. When I conducted a telephone survey of Los Angeles County the following year I found precisely the same figure, 15% out of 200. Some common observations were animals appearing frightened, agitated, panic-stricken, excited, or confused.
A number of people found their ordinarily mellow cats suddenly darted off and hid, or paced around crying for a few minutes before the quake. I was told of goats and horses leaping around wildly, noisy birds suddenly becoming silent, or a whole flock of seagulls taking off all at once just before an earthquake. A few people told me that they noticed the number of roadkill increasing for several days before a quake. A lot of people mentioned dogs vanishing or barking uncontrollably.
One Santa Cruz woman told me their neighbor’s dog jumped a fence just before the 1989 Loma Prieta quake in Northern California, then the dog sat on her daughter through the quake, as though trying to protect her. Other stories are just plain bizarre. One woman said that her cat did a back-flip off her balcony. Another woman reported that her cat leaped out of a two-story window shortly before a quake.
Although the majority of accounts pertain to dogs and cats, there are also many stories about other types of animals In the wild, on farms, and in zoos; including horses, cows, deer, goats, possums, rats, chickens, and other birds. The behavior has been reported in many other animal species as well, including fish, jellyfish, reptiles, and even Insects. Deep sea fish, for example, have been caught close to the surface of the ocean on numerous occasions around Japan prior to earthquakes. (Tributsch, 1982)
Some fish–catfish in particular–are reputed to become agitated before earthquakes, and at times have been reported to actually leap out of the water onto dry land. Snakes have been known to leave their underground places of hibernation In the middle of the winter prior to quakes, only to be found frozen on the surface of the snow. Mice are commonly reported to appear dazed before quakes, and allow themselves to easily be captured by hand. Homing pigeons are said to take much longer to navigate to their destination prior to earthquakes.
Hens have been reported laying fewer eggs, or no eggs at all, and pigs have been observed aggressively trying to bite one another before earthquakes (Tributsch, 1982). Someone in Northern Iran, close to the epicenter of a 6.2 magnitude earthquake that occurred on May 28, 2004, wrote me to report that, “The Hens started to become extremely noisy about a week before the earthquake and stayed extremely quiet on the day of the earthquake. They also laid no eggs that day.”
Bees have been seen evacuating their hive in a panic, minutes before an earthquake, and then not returning until fifteen minutes after the quake ended. Even creatures such as millipedes, leeches, squid, and ants have been reported to exhibit abnormal behavior prior to earthquakes (Miller, 1996).
These strange behaviors generally occur anywhere from moments to weeks in advance of a quake. Most of the people I have spoken with who have witnessed this phenomenon, observed the strange behavior within twenty-four hours of a quake, although some observations occurred more than a week before the quake struck. Berkland has suggested that there are possibly two primary precursory earthquake signals–one several weeks before, and the other one just moments before the quake. A lot of reports appear to confirm this.
A number of theories have been proposed to explain why animals sometimes act in peculiar ways prior to earthquakes, and what the precursory signals that the animals are picking up on might be. One of the earliest ideas on the subject comes from an ancient Japanese legend. During the Middle Ages it was believed that earthquakes were caused by the rustling of giant catfish that lived underground. This mythological idea, which has found artistic expression in numerous Japanese wood-print blocks, probably arose from observations of catfish behaving in strange ways prior to earthquakes.
Catfish normally lead a rather sluggish life. They live In muddy river and lake bottoms, and usually don’t move around all that much. However, catfish have been observed becoming so wildly excited and agitated prior to earthquakes, that they will sometimes actually leap out of the water onto dry land. Numerous reports suggest that fish seem to be particularly sensitive to whatever the precursory earthquake signals might be.
The scientific theories that have been proposed to explain this phenomenon generally fall into six major categories–ultrasound vibrations, magnetic field fluctuations, electric field variations, piezoelectric airborne Ions, brain changes, and precognition–which I discuss in detail below.
Because many animals possess auditory capacities beyond the human range,
it has been suggested that some animals may be reacting to ultrasound emitted as microseisms from fracturing rock, or other subtle sounds, vibrations, or movements of the earth. (Armstrong, 1969) Humans hear within a frequency range between 16 and 20,000 Hz, while dogs and cats can hear at least up to 60,000 Hz. However, one of the primary problems with the ultrasound theory is that some of the animals that respond in advance to earthquakes have hearing that is no more sensitive than our own. For example, pigeons and songbirds hear less well than humans, or, at best, only as well, so their unusual behavior prior to earthquakes can not be traced to ultrasound vibrations.
Another problem arises from the fact that small earth tremors and minor earthquakes are common in seismically active areas. For example, In California there are generally hundreds of small earthquakes (magnitude 3 or less) every year. If animals were so sensitive to weak vibrations then they would frequently give false alarms in these areas. Most importantly, if so many species of animals can pick up characteristic vibrations before major earthquakes, then seismologists should be able to identify them with their sensitive instruments, yet they have failed to do so, despite years of intensive research.
Earth-Leaking Gas Theory:
Some researchers have suggested that animals may be responding to radon or other gases released by the earth prior to an earthquake. It Is well-known that in the rhythm of lunar tides, and under certain geological conditions, the above-ground concentration of swamp gases, such as methane, can change slightly. The gases are also sometimes released from the ground during earth tremors. Since almost all animals (apes and most birds excluded) have a keener sense of smell