It’s an idea rejected by many in the modern seismology world but there may be something to it.
Nanjing city in East China’s Jiangsu province has built seven new observation sites from which to make general earthquake predictions, using animals like chickens, pigs and fish to help forecast possible risks.
The animal caretakers issue daily reports about the animal behavior to Nanjing’s seismological departments using instant messaging software.
It’s a pretty neat idea. But the controls are hard to address. The animals must be in a quiet environment. There are a myriad of other factors that must be accounted for. And, inevitably, the “prediction” will be post hoc unless the behavior is REALLY obvious, which is rare.
More research is accumulating that SOME active fault zones that result in large earthquakes do exhibit environmental precursors such as gas release, changing groundwater levels, and ionized air. These precursors, which are highly specific to a fault location and conditions, may be detected by animals with senses quite different than ours.
Not all animals are sensitive to the same environmental stimuli. Some are acutely sensitive to smell (dogs) and others are not (birds). Some can sense vibrations, but others, such as domestic animals, are surrounded by vibrations and noise that cancel out subtle signals.
Animals can be very sensitive to electric fields. Some have organs specifically for navigating or catching prey using electrical signals. Sharks and catfish, in particular, have extraordinarily sensitive electrosensory systems used to capture hidden prey and for communication, orientation and navigation. Mammals have hair that acts as a sensor for electrical fields. Even feathers, whiskers or antennae may be receiving electrical signals from the environment.
Animals, plants, electronics, and the atmosphere may all be responding to the seismo-electromagnetic signals from the epicentral area of the coming quake. The generated electrical fields may be strong enough for their local discharges to generate high frequency EM waves. A number of results show revealing background anomalies in EM emission levels right up to the moment of the quake that may even continue afterwards.
Animal experiments have shown that mice become restless and show signs of fear and distress when in proximity to rock under pressure prior to bursting. Anecdotal evidence also exists for animals to sense rockslides and move away from the affected area days before an event.
Animals also have been reported to act unusually before and during other catastrophes like storms, tsunami landfalls and during a house fire. These are also examples of where the precursors or early conditions may be perceived by animals but not by humans. Crocodiles in Japan behaved violently prior to an earthquake in the area and had similar behavior prior to approaching storms which may indicate they are responding to EM waves. Because we see parallels in behavior between coming storms and earthquakes, perhaps the underlying reason is also the same.
Adapted from Whispers from the Earth (Hill, 2007)
There have been some laboratory experiments to test animal responses to the piezometric effect, EM pulses and low voltage electricity.
See Ikeya, Motiji, 2004, Earthquakes and Animals: From Folk Legends to Science, World Scientific Publishing Co., Pte. Ltd.: Singapore.
Behaviors that may manifest include avoiding water, rubbing or preening themselves in an attempt to relieve irritation, minimizing contact with the ground, staying in contact with metal and aligning their body with or against the EM field. However, the animals must be in close proximity to the epicenter.
Using animal behavior as a precursor indicator is problematic and unreliable but a sound study that happens to be ongoing during a quake event, would be useful. With observations of the release of charged particles from quake zones, resulting in coronal discharges (earthquake lights?) and ionosphere disturbances, earthquake zones may be full of precursors if we are looking at the right things.