Can whales predict tsunamis?


Can whales predict tsunamis?

A British photographer witnessed a school of whales vanishing during an underwater earthquake. Could they serve as ‘canaries’ for humans?

Posted by
Philip Hoare
Sunday 15 April 2012 15.00 EDT The Guardian

Observers have watched whales vanish after an undersea earthquake. Photograph: Andrew Sutton

Do whales hear earthquakes long before humans? As tsunami warnings hit the Indonesian and Sri Lankan coasts last week, observers at sea watched as every species of cetacean – from massive blue whales to diminutive spinner dolphins – disappeared within five minutes. British photographer and film-maker Andrew Sutton, who took this remarkable shot last Wednesday off the southern tip of Sri Lanka, reports that he and his crew were mystified as the whales they were watching vanished in the space of a few minutes. The humans on the boat were unaware that the quake had happened, but the animals had evidently sensed the subsea seismic shocks, and fled.

Could cetaceans act as canaries in the sea, as advance alarms of potentially dangerous seismic activity? Both the Japan and New Zealand earthquakes of last year were preceded by mass cetacean strandings on beaches in these respective islands. And a recent scientific report from Mexico appears to prove that a fin whale accelerated sharply away from the site of an underwater earthquake.

But having already exploited whales for centuries, perhaps we should not be so quick to enlist their services. Back in 1964, another erstwhile resident of Sri Lanka, the science-fiction writer, Arthur C Clarke, predicted that by the year 2000, “we will not be the only intelligent creatures…”

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