The first recorded reference to animals predicting earthquakes is found in ancient Greece, attributed to writings from 373 B.C. Supposedly weasels, rats, snakes and even centipedes abandoned their normal environments and moved to areas of safety several days before a strong and destructive earthquake. Reports of similar activity have been recorded throughout history. Anecdotal in nature, these reports seem to indicate that many species adapt abnormal behavior prior to earthquake occurrences. Mammals, fish, birds and even insects have allegedly been observed showing strange behavior weeks ahead of a quake, with activity intensifying closer to the time of the event.
One theory pointing to animals exhibiting “predicting” behavior prior to an earthquake relates to lost household pets. One study of the increase in Lost Pet classified ads in a local California newspaper apparently showed an increase in such ads prior to earthquakes in the San Francisco Bay area. If Fido senses that an earthquake is impending, he just might decide that the homestead is not the safest place to stay, and he and his fellow pet buddies head for the hills. An article in California Geology published in 1988 included a statistical analysis of the data that concluded that there was, however, no correlation between Lost Pet ads and later earthquakes.
Can animals sense activity within the earth that we humans cannot? Most definitely the answer is yes. Remember that an earthquake has different waves that move through the earth. The first wave that is generated is called a “P” wave. These are small waves that travel from the epicenter and arrive seconds before the larger “S” wave. It is fact that animals have much keener senses than humans, and most animals can sense these “P” waves when we cannot. However, if animals react to the sensation of “P” waves, keep in mind that this prediction will only give a few seconds of warning. The real question, yet to be proven, is whether or not animals can sense movements or changes in seismic fault zones long before man’s equipment and sensors can detect such evidence.
In yet another possible indication of animals predicting earthquakes, rare giant oarfish have recently been discovered in the nets of Japanese fishermen and washed ashore on the northern coast of Japan. These snake like fish normally live in very deep waters, and rarely are seen. Japanese folklore touts the story that the appearances of these fish are predictions of impending seismic activity. Perhaps, according to some theories, these bottom dwellers can sense the changes and activity in deep ocean fault systems, and thus migrate away from these areas. Some Japanese firmly believe that due to the discovery of the oarfish that severe earthquakes are now imminent.
Can animals predict earthquakes? Scientific proof of the ability to base predictions on the observation of certain animal behavior has yet to be documented. Most serious research is being pursued in China and Japan. For now, at least, the mystery remains.