Human sensitivity to earth tremors over vast distances at the
time of seismic disturbance, or hearing the ominous rumbling
days before, is an unclassified psychic phenomenon. Conversations
with Goethe (1838) by Johann P. Eckermann, relates one
such account concerning Goethe: During the night of February
56, 1783, my master rang for me. I went to his room and
saw him dragging his bed from the end of the room to the window.
Then he looked up at the sky and said, Listen, we are at
a very serious hour, for earthquakes are happening at this very
moment. The next day, at the court of Weimar, Goethe repeated
to several persons what he had said in the night, but he
was laughed at, and one lady cried, Goethe is raving. However,
two weeks later accounts of a terrible earthquake arrived. It
had occurred in Calabria and Sicily at the very time Goethe
called to his valet.
Lady Conan Doyle claimed possession of the same gift that
Eckermann recorded of Goethe. As many as five days preceding
she stated that she could hear the rumbling of the earth
over thousands of miles, especially in the quiet of the night. It
broke in on her usual activity at unexpected moments, stopped,
then recommenced and often continued up to the hour of the
earthquake. She could tell the comparative distance but not the
geographical position. She felt normal during such episodes
and considered her ability to be a kind of predictive clairaudience.
Since ancient times, it has been popularly believed that animals
are able to sense the approach of earthquakes. One of the
earliest writers to record this belief was Pliny the Elder (ca.
2379 C.E.), and it has persisted even until today. It was reported
that weeks before the great West Indian earthquake with the
eruption of Mount Pelée in Martinique in 1902 cattle became
so uneasy that they could hardly be managed, dogs were fearful
and howled continually, snakes left the vicinity of the volcano,
and even the birds ceased to sing and left the trees on the
mountainside. Such claims were often considered superstitious
folklore, but are now taken seriously by scientists and parapsychologists,
who refer to the phenomenon as anpsi, the psi faculty
There is ample evidence that animals do in fact behave in
an unusual way prior to earthquakes, and Western scientists
have taken great interest in the study of animal sensitivity in the
Peoples Republic of China. In 1976 a group of ten United
States geologists and geophysicists visited China under the
auspices of the National Academy of Sciences Committee for
Scholarly Communication with the Peoples Republic of China
to investigate new techniques of predicting earthquakes. In addition
to using electronic equipment to monitor earth sounds
and the study of fluctuating water levels, the Chinese also study
unusual animal behavior in an attempt to scientifically verify
folk beliefs. Chinese farmers have believed for centuries that
the onset of earthquakes is signaled by such unusual animal behavior
as dogs howling, fish leaping, and snakes and rats
emerging from hiding.
Similar observations have been reported from other countries.
In Japan, fish have been reported to appear in large numbers
in areas where they were normally scarce. Japanese householders
in earthquake areas often keep goldfish in a bowl; if the
fish swim about in a frantic manner, it is believed to signal an
approaching earthquake. Rabbits and deer have been observed
to run in terror from epicenter zones some hours before an
earthquake. The Soviet publication U.P.I. Report on Soviet
Studies (March 24, 1969) states that a Russian woman in Tashkent
survived the earthquake of 1966 when her dog dragged
her to safety minutes before her house was destroyed.
Various explanations have been advanced to account for the
seeming ability of animals to predict earthquakes. Since animals
are aware of super- and sub-sonic frequencies, it has been
suggested that they hear the initial sound waves of an earthquake,
which are inaudible to humans. Another suggestion is
that animals perceive electromagnetic field variations. Another
theory proposes that earthquakes produce an intensification of
positive ions in the atmosphere, acting on the nervous system
of creatures rather in the same way that some people claim to
be able to perceive the onset of a storm. James B. Beal, in Extrasensory
Ecology, discusses electrostatic and electromagnetic phenomena
of this kind, including the sky glow that may precede
an earthquake by several hours, and suggests that an
earthquake causes a buildup in pressure in surrounding rocks.
Beal, James B. The Formerly Supernatural: Electrical and
Psi Fields in Medical Anthropology. In Extrasensory Ecology:
Parapsychology & Anthropology, edited by E. K. Long. Metuchen,
N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1977.
Cornell, James C., Jr., and John Surowiecki. The Pulse of the
Planet: A State of the Earth Report from the Smithsonian Institution
Center for Short-lived Phenomena. Harmony Books, 1972.
Gribben, John R., and Stephen H. Plageman. The Jupiter Effect.
New York: Vintage Books, 1975.
James, Paul. California Superquake, 197577: Scientists, Cayce,
Psychics Speak. New York: Exposition Press, 1974.
Schul, Bill. The Psychic Power of Animals. Greenwich, Conn.: