flocking

The animals know. They sense things that we can’t. The recent earthquake in Nepal demonstrated that again.

We are pretty sophisticated in our science but we still aren’t very good about predicting natural disasters. Animals seem to be able to sense some events.  Immediately before an earthquake, herds of animals often start to behave strangely. Before a tsunami, they move to higher ground. They may leave their homes in large numbers.

In 373 B.C., historians recorded that animals, including rats, snakes and weasels, deserted the Greek city of Helice in droves just days before a quake devastated the place.

Can they detect small, fast-traveling waves? Can they sense changes in the ground water? Some researchers think that animals may be more sensitive to positive ions in the air that build up when rocks in the earth’s surface are stressed leading up to an earthquake.

We don’t know how they know.

You’ve heard those stories about a dog detecting cancer in its owner.  But when a group of animals reacts to an imminent disaster, is that some kind of group behavior – like birds flocking or the movement of a school of fish – or is it many data points that we could monitor?

Researchers are just beginning to look at collecting data in large quantities from animals without interfering with their natural behavior. That might come from monitoring their habitats using sensors or motion detectors. Could we add science to our observations and learn to know about disasters beforehand?

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