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No, your dog probably can’t predict an earthquake, scientists say

Published Apr 17th, 2018 4:43PM EDT
can animals predict earthquakes
Image: ETersigni

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Can animals predict natural disasters? Lots of anecdotal evidence exists to suggest they can, with plenty of people claiming that their dogs or cats behaved erratically just prior to an earthquake. However, despite plenty of claims, a recent study suggests that animals have no real predictive ability when it comes earthquakes.

The study, which was published in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, focused on previous claims by people who insist that their pets or farm animals demonstrated the ability to predict an earthquake before any actual rumbling was felt. The researchers combed the data in an attempt to draw conclusions, but quickly found that the majority of the claims lacked any substantial scientific data to back them up.

“Many review papers on the potential of animals as earthquake precursors exist, but to the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that a statistical approach was used to evaluate the data,” Heiko Woith, lead author of the research, explains.

Many previous observations of the alleged phenomenon are little more than claims by people who believe their animals were acting funny prior to an earthquake. The timeline of the supposedly strange behavior varies wildly, from mere seconds to months prior to the earthquake itself, and many of the claims are single observations rather than behavior tracked over time.

Simply put, the small amount of actual data that does exist regarding animals and earthquakes is muddied with countless unsubstantiated claims that have little to no scientific value. Nevertheless, the scientists note that earthquakes might indeed trigger some response in animals prior to the rumbling, but nothing can be proven with the current available data.

“The animals may sense seismic waves generated by foreshocks,” Woith notes. “Another option could be secondary effects triggered by the foreshocks, like changes in groundwater or release of gases from the ground which might be sensed by the animals.”

To actually prove any of this is the case, long-term observations are needed. Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially considering the spontaneous and unpredictable nature of earthquakes. Until we know more, it’s best not to count on your four-legged friend to predict a quake.