Case Study: Can Animals Predict Earthquakes

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Can Animals Predict Earthquakes? In the year 373 BCE, the Roman Historian Aelian record that the city of Helike’s animals were behaving strangely. He wrote that the city’s rats, snakes, centipedes, and weasels had all fled after several days of increased activity. Five days later, the city was devastated by an earthquake that destroyed the entire area. In Edo, modern-day Tokyo, Japan, catfish were reported to have “acted weird” before earthquakes in both 1855 and 1923. In February 1975 in the Chinese city of Haicheng, snakes were seen surfacing, and strange enough occurrence in the middle of winter, and then disappearing, causing a city wide evacuation. The region was hit by a magnitude 7.3 earthquake with would have killed hundreds …show more content…
The idea that animals can predict and warn us of oncoming seismic disasters has been prevalent throughout history, from as far back as ancient Greece to the modern era (Ault 2016). This list of cases appears to be anecdotal, relying on subjective impressions and hindsight biased samples, but civilizations across the globe have relied on animals to warn them of oncoming danger for centuries. While, as the saying goes, the plural of anecdote is not data, anecdotal information can help one discover new fields of study, such as: why do animals seem to predict earthquakes and, if they can, what does this mean for the field of seismology? There is no consensus over how animals would predict earthquakes, given that there is no consensus as to whether they can at all. However, there are three prevailing theories, each backed by evidence from different species. The first of which involves the detection of slight changes in the electromagnetic field. This theory is backed by two main facts: the electromagnetic field is known to change slightly due to seismic activity and some animals, such as catfish, are known to sense these changes (Bressan 2011). “Some fish often have exquisite …show more content…
The evolutionary process behind these mechanisms is another question entirely. The prevailing idea here is the two-step model (Kirschvink 2000). The first step is the development of a mechanism of early detection and involves the three theories previously mentioned. The mechanism would have to be quick, working in the space of time between the first warning sign, whether it be the change in electromagnetic field, presence of sound waves, or arrival of initial P waves, and the approach of the S waves and earthquake itself. Given the presence of a stimuli detection method, the second step would be the linkage between that stimulus and earthquake, which would then elicit a response. The conclusion can be drawn that some animals haven’t reached this step, as not all have learned to flee but just “exhibit strange behaviour,” implying that they’re sensing a change but not perceiving what it is, rendering the mechanism useless (USGS).The second step would, having said that, likely develop, even in an isolated population. If it occurred in one animal, that animal’s ability to survive a disaster increases its chances of producing offspring, its fitness, and the mutation’s likelihood of carrying on into the next generation. Given the presence of step one, step two would likely follow. Some go as far as to say that, since both snakes and rodents have been seen to have the ability, it evolved early and “was probably

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