GADVASU expert discusses role of animals, birds in detecting natural disasters

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, Ludhiana
  • Updated: Apr 28, 2015 18:19 IST

After the Nepal earthquake disaster that has destroyed property and claimed many lives, Kirti Dua, in-charge of wildlife centre and professor of veterinary medicine at Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (GADVASU) held a discussion on the role of animals and birds in detecting such natural disasters on Wednesday.

He said, “The belief that animals can predict earthquakes has been around for centuries. But, the question is whether these tales are true?”

“Many studies have indicated that some animals can sense major changes in weather. Worms, for instance, are known to flee rising groundwater. Birds are known to be sensitive to air pressure changes, and often hunker down before a big storm. 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,” he said.

Dua said, “Researchers are skeptical that our puppy can give a cue that big quake is coming. They are also skeptical that any special “sixth sense” helped animals survive the great tsunami that swept the Indian ocean in 2004. After the wave, people reported seeing animals fleeing to forests on high ground and finding few bodies of dead animals. It may also be assumed that many animals may have survived simply because they are strong swimmers or able to scamper up trees.”

On being asked about how fortified is sense of animals, he said, “Precisely what animals sense, if they feel anything at all, is a mystery. One theory is that wild and domestic creatures feel the Earth vibrate before humans. Other ideas suggest they detect electrical changes in the air or gas released from the Earth. However, it is believed that animals can pick up the “infrasonic” sound pulses created by storms and earthquakes, and get a headstart on fleeing to safety. 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.”

“Earthquakes are a sudden phenomenon. Seismologists have no way of knowing exactly when or where the next one will hit. One of the world's most earthquake-prone countries is Japan, where researchers have studied animals in hopes of discovering what they hear or feel before the Earth shakes in order to use that sense as a prediction tool. But, so far they have not succeeded. While animals may one day be a helpful early warning system, for the earthquake forecasting, we will still need to have geophysical measurements in combination with animal measurements,” he said.

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