By Regina Quadir Imagine your dog starts barking and hides under a table right before an earthquake rattles your house. Is your dog psychic? The idea that animals can predict earthquakes and other natural disasters is not a new phenomenon. Scientists have been exploring this topic for years, investigating whether animals possess a sixth sense that allows them to predict natural disasters.
Humans once depended on animals to forecast storms before weather satellites and advanced meteorology existed. But even with modern technology in place, people around the world continue to look towards nature for a cue in disaster prediction. On February 4, 1975, Chinese officials ordered an evacuation in the city of Haicheng based in part on unusual behavior in animals before a 7.3 magnitude earthquake hit. 2,041 people died and 27,538 were injured, but it was estimated that the number of fatalities and injuries would have exceeded 150,000 if no earthquake evacuation was made. Many locals praise the city’s animals for saving lives.
A more recent instance of strange animal behavior before a disaster was the 2004 tsunami in India and Sri Lanka. Numerous eyewitness accounts reported that dogs refused to go on their usual morning walks on the beach, elephants ran for higher ground, and flamingos fled their usual low-lying breeding areas. Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park, a wildlife reserve with hundreds of wild animals, reported no mass animal deaths after the tsunami. Some researchers think that these animals were able to sense the threat long before humans.
Back in the Western Hemisphere, scientists at Mote Marine Laboratory of Sarasota, Florida, used technology to track movement of sharks and discovered that these sharks ventured into deeper waters about a day before the 2004 Hurricane Charley made landfall.
So what does science have to say about the possibility of animals having psychic powers or their ability to predict disasters? Many scientists are skeptical and dismiss these as anecdotal accounts, attributing it to a “psychological focusing effect” that people report after the disaster occurred. And U.S. Geological Survey has made a clear statement that changes in animal behavior cannot be used to predict earthquakes. But nonetheless, many scientists do agree that animals can hear and feel things that humans can’t.
According to one study in the International Journal of Public Environmental Research and Public Health, animals may sense chemical changes in groundwater that occur when an earthquake is about to strike. Researchers examined these chemical changes after seeing a group of toads abandon their pond five days before an earthquake struck Italy in 2009. Some suggest that because a dog’s olfactory senses are 10,000 to 100,000 times stronger than humans possess, this may allow them to smell a change in the air before storms and other disasters. Other theories state that animals feel the earth vibrate before humans and may be able to “hear” infrasound—very low-frequency rumbles that are created by natural occurrences like earthquakes and volcanoes.
The idea that animals might possess a sixth sense remains a mystery to this day. While we’re not quite ready to hand it over to animals to let us know when natural disasters will strike, these prescient creatures do seem to know a thing or two about being prepared.
Are you a pet owner that’s convinced your pet can warn you about natural disasters? Have you noticed bizarre behavior from your pet before a storm or natural disaster occurs? Do you think animals have a sixth sense that humans lack? Let us know in the comments below.
Originally Posted in: https://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2012/10/pet-sense-disaster/