Many pet owners out there claim that their animals begin acting strangely just before an earthquake, but is there any science to back it up?
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New research published in the journal Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America this week seems to be skeptical of these claims, and perhaps for good reasons.
The backbone of the study involved analyzing 729 different reports of pets acting strangely just before an earthquake event, and perhaps unsurprisingly, most (if not all) of those reports lacked the supporting evidence required for scientific recognition.
"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," explained study lead author Heiko Woith from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences.
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One of the primary highlights of the research is how most pets that acted strangely before an earthquake did so at random times and in ways that most scientists would consider coincidences. Some pet owners reported strange activity just before the quake, while others reported it weeks or months before.
Given the seemingly sporadic data, the strange behavior before earthquakes has little or no reproducibility. That said, it’s challenging for researchers to discern a reliable link.
An alternative theory is that perhaps pets don’t foresee oncoming earthquakes, but rather sense something known as a foreshock.
"The animals may sense seismic waves—it could P, S or surface waves—generated by foreshocks," Woith added.
"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."
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Then again, it’s entirely possible that pet owners misread their pets’ behavior or that the animals merely act strangely at coincidental times for entirely unrelated reasons.
Unfortunately, there isn’t enough data to prove the idea that pets can sense Earthquakes before they transpire. But this uncertainty paves the way for future research; perhaps one day, scientists will have the long-term data they need to validate or debunk the claims.