Animals can detect the P-wave or ultrasonic wave generated by a big underground explosion or the rupture of an earthquake, even if the waves are too small for humans' senses. These waves travel faster than the S-wave earthquake wave that most strongly shakes the ground and causes the most damage. When this happens, animals can detect the incoming earthquake wave, and start behaving agitatedly or nervously, the same way a human would behave if they heard a loud explosion right outside their house.
Some people believe that in this way animals sense the immediate onset of earthquakes. In support of this claim, instances are cited when people have witnessed flight of animals just before an earthquake disaster. In fact, according to the Chief conservator of forests for Tamilnadu, a few minutes before the killer tsunami waves generated by an underwater earthquake hit the Indian coastline in December 2004, a 500-strong herd of blackbucks rushed away from the coastal areas to the safety of a nearby hilltop. Since the beginning of recorded history, observations of unusual animal behavior before earthquakes have been recorded by people from almost all civilizations. The Chinese began a systematic study of this unusual animal behavior and in December 1974 predicted a major earthquake that did, in fact, occur in February 1975. But skeptics claim to debunk nearly all such observations. In fact, the 1975 prediction relied most heavily on a series of strong foreshocks. The animal behavior reports are often ambiguous and not consistently observed. There is little evidence for animals being able to sense impending earthquakes, although it is likely they can sense the initial, weaker P-waves before people. Seismometers remain much more sensitive than even the animals, however.
In folklore, some animals have had more reports of being able to predict quakes than others. Likely: Dogs, cats, chickens and other smaller animals. There have been reports with elephants, too. Unlikely: Goats, horses, cows, and larger animals.
Japan has a long tradition associating catfish with earthquake prediction. From this idea emerged a long university research programme concluding in 2004 in which it was proposed that the (established) high sensitivity of catfish to electric fields was involved in detecting fields of a few hertz because of piezoelectric effects on deeply buried quartz crystals. Actual monitoring of catfish and correlation with earthquakes gave results that are not promising.
At Quakeprediction.com we have also found that animal behaviour is very important when working with earthquake prediction. This is not the only tool we use when making our forecasts, but it is a vital part of our earthquake forecasting model.
Researchers from The Open University reported that 96 per cent of male toads in a population abandoned their breeding site five days before the earthquake that struck L'Aquila in Italy in 2009. The breeding site was located 74 km from the earthquake's epicentre.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Theodore Roosevelt Speech; "The Man in the Arena"