Sunday, April 13, 2014

Do Animals Know When Disaster is going to Happen?

Researchers are divided on this topic; some believe animals know when a natural disaster is going to happen and try to get to safety and others do not believe animals have any special powers.  We've all seen our pets and other animals act differently when the weather is going to change, but what about earthquakes, hurricanes and other disasters?

I'm going to try to give some specifics about this, but even these are disagreed upon by those doing the research.  For instance, in Florida, researchers studying tagged sharks say they flee to deeper water just before a big hurricane arrives. They also may be sensing the air and water pressure changes caused by the big storm. 

Michelle Heupel, a scientist at the Mote Marine Laboratory who worked on the shark study, has told reporters. “When things change, they may not understand why it’s happening, but the change itself may trigger some instinct to move to an area that is safer for them.”

Many believe animals know when there is going to be an earthquake.  Researchers like Liz Von Muggenthaler — who appears in NATURE’s, Can Animals Predict Disaster? — believe animals can pick up the “infrasonic” sound pulses created by storms and earthquakes, and get a head start on fleeing to safety. It would make sense, she says, that the animals learn to associate such signals with danger.

An elephant trumpets wildly, breaks a chain holding it to a tree, and flees to higher ground — just before a massive tsunami crashes ashore, drowning hundreds of thousands of people. Did the elephant know the deadly wave was coming?

Could it be some creatures may be able to “hear” infrasound, — sounds produced by natural phenomena, including earthquakes, volcanoes, and storms, that are inaudible to the human ear. This ability may give elephants and other animals enough time to react and flee to safety.

Another explanation may lie in animals’ sensitivities to electromagnetic field variations. Quantum geophysicist Motoji Ikeya has found that certain animals react to changes in electrical currents. He now regularly monitors a catfish, the most sensitive of the creatures he has tested, to aid him in warning others of coming disaster.


It is thought seagulls will return to land if there is a barometric change. 

What happens to animals before storms roll in or at the onset of winter? Infrasonic sounds could still be the culprit because hurricanes and thunder produce sound waves at those frequencies. But there's also the matter of changes in barometric (air) and hydrostatic (water) pressure.

Birds and bees also appear to sense this drop in barometric pressure and will instinctively seek the cover of their nests or hives. Birds also use their ability to sense air pressure to determine when it's safe to migrate.

There have been interesting proposals about the validity of some animal folklore. Some Native Americans believe black bears choose different sleeping spots in their caves depending on how cold the winter will be, or the fur on a hare's feet will grow fluffier if heavy snows approach. While there's a chance these are simply coincidences, some have pointed out that science is based on observation, and folklore is based on centuries of observation -- although the observations haven't been conducted in controlled circumstances.

So far, science hasn't found a surefire way to answer many of the questions we have about animals' behaviors, perceptions and motivations. Until that time, it's hard to prove once and for all what's going on in their heads.

It's highly unlikely animals can predict weather in an ESP-sort of way, but they very well may be able to sense environmental signals that humans miss. Reaction is another key component: A human might sense a drop in barometric pressure, for example, but not feel compelled by that sensation to seek shelter before a storm hits, as an animal might.

Another potential reason animals might react to impending weather events and natural disasters differently than humans is because at least some of their five senses almost always surpass our own. Many weather occurrences generate noises in the infrasonic range, too low for people to usually hear, for example, but well within the hearing range of many animal species.

There are many ways the conditions of an environment may alter to give animals a heads-up that something rough is on the way. Apart from barometric pressure and sound waves, there can also be changes in hydrostatic, or water, pressure.

How animals pick up on and react to fluctuations in environmental signals likely varies from species to species, as well as among the individuals of those species.

Some day science may learn the answers to the question of:  Can animals predict the weather and other natural disasters?  Right now, there is no definitive answer. 

Thank you for reading.  Have a great week, and I'll see you next Sunday. 

Sandra K. Marshall, author
@ Eirelander Publishing


Melissa Keir said...

It's interesting. I've always believed that animals know more than we do about nature. They may not be able to tell us or discuss things with humans but too many times, they have been able to make a change or save someone or themselves when humans aren't aware.

Amber Skyze said...

Sandy, this is very interesting. I believe animals know.

Rose Anderson said...

Fascinating post, Sandy. I've noticed the bees head for the hills hours before a storm hits.

Marianne Stephens said...

I believe animals can sense changes. Our dog would become very nervous and "antsy" before a storm. When we were in CA, however, he slept right through an small earthquake tremor. Maybe it wasn't big enough to catch his attention?

Carol Ericson said...

Funny you should have this topic, Sandy. A few weeks ago we had an earthquake on a Friday night. About an hour before we felt the quake (although there were smaller ones during this time we didn't feel), our dog was standing in the bathroom barking at nothing. Of course this may all be a coincidence because sometimes he will sleep right through little tremors. But, yes, I believe animals can sense changes in the atmosphere.

Sandy said...

Melissa, people can feel the changes in weather coming when they have arthritis, but animals have an even stronger sense of something happening.

Sandy said...

Thanks, Amber and Rose for your comments.

Marianne, Midnight, our cat started getting nervous and jumping around yesterday with the barametric change in the air. My husband's knee hurt so bad he had to take a half a pain pill last night so he could sleep. Today, they're both fine.

Sandy said...

Carol, I think animals can feel the movement under the earth, and sometimes it's significant enough to worry them.

Kari Rogers Miller said...

Sandy, I, too believe animals sense danger and there are some animals, particularly dogs, who sense when an owner has a serious illness such as cancer... or is having a seizure of some sort. Those dogs are amazing!

My dog on the other hand...well, lets just say that I fell in the garage the other day...(nothing serious, but hurt pride) but I sat on the floor awhile, catching my breath. My dog, Jesse, just looked at me like "what are you doing down there?"

I don't think he was too perceptive other than his thoughts of ...if something happens to her, who will feed me? haha

He is heartless... I tell you. ;) Plus, I told him to go get know, like Lassie used to go for help?

Again, the look he gave me want me to do what?

I am thinking about getting a cat! teehehehe!

Sandy said...

Our cats would be raising the devil if one of us fell,Kari, especially, Midnight. She loves to talk. Thanks for your comment.

Ailyn Koay said...

yes. that is why we should strive to preserve nature.. as these remarkable beings are our best warning signs for a lot of things in nature

Sandy said...

Ailyn, I so agree with you, sweetie.