Update– 13 March 2011– Japan has been hit by a monster earthquake and tsunami. The epicentre of the quake was in Miyagi Prefecture. On 6 March, a week earlier, 50 whales beached in Ibaraki Prefecture, a little over 100 kilometres south. Twenty-two of the whales were refloated and saved.
Update–22nd February 2011. There has been a devastating earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand–much worse than the September quake. Two weeks ago, on 4th February, 82 pilot whales beached at Golden Bay, which is at the northern tip of the South Island and a few days earlier, at the end of January, 24 whales died after a stranding in the North Island.
Back in 2004, Dr. Arunachalam Kumar, an anatomy professor at the medical college in Mangalore, India captured some headlines when he suggested that a massive stranding of whales off Tasmania on December 4, 2004 might be a warning of a major earthquake “within a week or two.” Three weeks later, the earthquake that triggered the Boxing Day tsunami occurred.
Well, he’s done it again.
On August 20, a pod of 73 pilot whales came ashore at Karikari Beach in Kaitaia, New Zealand. Nine were saved by teams attempting to refloat them but the rest died.
When Dr. Kumar was informed of the beachings, he predicted that an earthquake and/or a massive volcano eruption would occur in the end of August or early September. Sure enough, on August 29, Mt. Sinabung, a volcano in Sumatra that had been dormant for years erupted unexpectedly.
Then, on September 4th the 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Down here there have been a lot of psychics on the talk shows claiming that they had predicted the earthquake as well. But as far as I can tell, Dr. Kumar is the only person who documented his prediction. And has a track record of success. He also predicted an earthquake within four weeks of a mass whale stranding off Tasmania in late November 2008 and on January 4, 2009 three people were killed by a series of earthquakes in Indonesia. You can check out his blog here.
I think he may be on to something, even though there are a lot of other academics who are sceptical.
I can’t find any indication that he predicted the Haiti earthquake, but get this. That earthquake happened on January 12, 2010. On December 28, 2009, less than two weeks before the earthquake, over 120 whales died in two separate beachings in New Zealand.
Dr. Kumar doesn’t get worried about the isolated whale strandings. Rather, as he says “It is my observation, confirmed over the years, that mass suicides of whales and dolphins that occur sporadically all over the world, are in someway related to change and disturbances in the electromagnetic field coordinates and possible realignments of geotectonic plates thereof.”
There are all sorts of theories about why whales beach themselves and seem to have a preference for Australian and New Zealand beaches. For one thing, apparently NZ is on the migration route of many whales as they head to their breeding grounds in the South Pacific so there is a lot of whale traffic in the area.
Whale beaching theories include things like climate changes or El Niño. Changes in the temperature of ocean currents may make the whales’ food supply move around. If the plankton they eat move close to shore, and the shore is long and sloping, the whales’ sonar may become confused and they become disoriented and just run up on the beach. Timing is everything and if the tide is going out they can be stranded.
Scientists think that the reason the strandings involve so many whales at one time is because if one gets into trouble it alerts the pod and they rush in trying to help and they get stuck too.
Other theories involve toxins from human activity and especially noise pollution, particularly submarines, which emit sonar pulses and all the blasting and drilling that goes along with oil exploration. The sound may disturb the whales own sonar so they become disoriented.
They’ve actually done experiments and found that whales exposed to certain sound waves could not store nitrogen in their blood as efficiently as they should. As a result when they dive deep and come up they get something very much like humans get when they don’t decompress properly. In humans it’s called the bends and when you get the bends, you get disoriented. It may be true. The types of whales that beach most are ones who dive deepest. And beachings have often been associated with naval exercises in the area.
But back to whales and earthquakes, they say that animals sense these things in advance and it may be that the whales are picking up vibrations or something as the forces that cause earthquakes reach the breaking point. This would be the movement of the tectonic plates as Dr. Kumar suggests.
I talked to friends in Christchurch and asked them if there had been any reports of animals behaving strangely right before the earthquake. A number of people had stories of their dog or cat behaving unusually. The most extreme example was a person whose dog actually jumped on their bed and woke them up minutes before the earthquake.
In any event, a number of people said that they were woken up shortly before the quake by birds making a lot of noise. At four in the morning. The official explanation is that the worms, feeling the vibrations or something, were moving to the surface and the birds were literally following the old adage of the early bird gets the worm. I guess if worms feel something, it’s not unreasonable to imagine that whales, who communicate by sound would also sense unusual energies.
All this is interesting, and a little bit scary. But the problem with all of it is that you can find evidence to prove just about anything. And as my statistics lecturer used to say (the only thing I remember) “correlation does not mean causality.” Just because you can link whale beachings and earthquakes doesn’t necessarily mean that one causes the other.
But I guess the bottom line is that the next time you hear about a whale stranding you should ask whether there’s been an earthquake or volcanic eruption recently. If the answer is no, watch out!