whales killed by seaquake.
Seaquake Kills 5 whales in 1946.

by Capt. David Williams

2013 Science Article Explaining Why Whale Beach
Seaquake Solutions to Previous Mass Whale Beachings
Deafwhale Society Sitemap 



In 1966, O.L. Martin, Jr. with Maritime Safety Division at the U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office published a special report entitled UNDERWATER DISTURBANCES! It was all about the danger of seaquakes and undersea volcanic eruptions. Read his report (link). At the same time you read it, ask yourself if the shock waves and pressure disturbances mentioned by the US Navy’s Maritime Safety Division in 1966 might injure the air sinuses of marine mammals, sea turtles, fishes with swim bladders. You don’t need to read too carefully. Just look on the left of page 59 where the article clearly states that:  “MARINE LIFE CAN BE DESTROYED BY A SEAQUAKE.”

Also notice on the last page where the article informs: “Damaging seaquake…..The ship may be thrown about in the water with such force that mast, booms, superstructure and machinery as well as the hull may be damaged. It is possible for seams to be opened to such an extent that flooding cannot be contained and the vessel sinks.” Keep in mind that this is an exact quote published by the US Navy’s very own Maritime Safety Division! Do you really need to be convince further?

Scorpion's starboard diving plane not shownNow fast forward 2 years. As shocking as it may seem, an entirely new investigation into seaquakes was secretly launched by the US Navy a few weeks after they found and photographed the total destruction of the nuclear attack submarine USS Scorpion. The big question is why did they launch this new special investigation when they obviously already knew that seaquakes could sink ships at sea? (link)

There are lots of other reasons to cover-up seaquakes as the cause of whale beaching but the sinking of a nuclear submarine is the most likely.

Consider this… throughout human history more lives have been lost to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions than any other natural catastrophe. Most of this volatile activity occurs along seismic faults zones that course around our planet like cracks in the shell of a boiled egg. Ninety percent of these cracks run below the surface of our oceans and seas. This means the odds that marine critters are injured by catastrophic seismic events is nine times greater than for land animals. In fact, it would outright stupid to think that natural undersea upheavals occurring in the backyard of whales and dolphins cause them no injury.

To further convince the public that seaquakes do indeed destroy marine life, the Deafwhale Society started digging through the digitized archives of old newspapers written in the English language. We used keywords like earthquake at sea, seaquake, undersea upheaval, submarine earthquake, earthquakes and whales, and others. This search led us to nearly 5,000 eyewitness reports from the crews of vessels that had experienced violent encounters and lived to tell their stories (1700 to 1899) (1900 to 2009). We even have some reports in which whales were killed by earthquakes. We are also convinced that there are another 20,000 to 30,000 dangerous seaquake encounters written in languages other than English.

We learned to search old newspapers from the first scientists to make a serious inquiry into seaquakes. His name was Eberhart (Emil) Rudolph. He was a Professor of Geophysics at the University of Strasbourg in Germany. Starting in 1887, he published 600 pages (1887-part1) (1887-part2) (1887-part3) (1887-part4) (1895) (1898) in the German language filled with 500 eyewitness accounts of the crews of sailing ships that had encountered shocks and violent shaking disturbances caused by undersea earthquakes and volcanic explosions. Here’s an old newspaper article in English telling of his famous research (link).

To gather his data, he visited hundreds of seaports, libraries, and newspaper offices all over Europe. He wanted to know exactly when a ship reported a shock or violent shaking so he could compare it with other ships over the horizon that might have reported the same event. He was trying to triangulate earthquake reports to prove that such events did indeed occur at sea. He had the same problem I’m having—no one wanted to believe him. The scientists of his day all insisted that the earthquakes occurred only a dry land, and could not possibly happen in the water-logged seafloor. Today’s whale scientists ignore seaquakes for selfish reasons. (see

Professor Rudolph even believed as I do that seaquakes are responsible for sinking of many ships that have mysteriously vanished over the centuries. In my opinion, he solved the Bermuda Triangle Mystery, before the triangle was ever invented. Look how easy it was for me to solve the greatest sea mystery of all, the mystery of the ghost ship Mary Celeste (link).

Other undersea earthquake research is equally shocking. On page 36 (Chap 3) of his book on using sound imaging to detect secret nuclear explosions in the ocean, German underwater acoustics Professor Peter Willie, the former head of NATO’s Undersea Research Center, displays three similar sonograms and compares the noise generated by undersea earthquakes and volcanic explosions with those of undersea nuclear explosions of several thousand tons of TNT-equivalent (link). He says earthquake sounds are the loudest sounds ever produced underwater.

As another example, physicists with Goddard Space Flight Center calculated that the shock front above two magnitude 7.5 earthquakes in the Pacific approached 100,000 pounds per square inch. (link) This is enough shock energy to sink even a battleship.

Naturally, the closer the focal point of an earthquake is in the seafloor to the rock-water interface, the less chance the energy has to spread before it enters the water column. One other point is extremely important: for decades our scientists have believed that a lot of the energy in seismic waves are bounced off the rock-water interface like light bounces off a mirror. Thanks to NOAA Professors Oleg A. Godin and Iosif M. Fuks, we now know that instead of a mirror, the rock-water interface becomes transparent to seismic shock waves and earthquake vibrations when the distance between the focal point and the rock-water interface is less that the length of the seismic waves generated by the earthquake (link) (link). Most of this research was done on the air-water interface. However, Professor Godin, in a private phone conference, told me that the physics of this anomalous transparency are the same for the rock-water interface as it is for water-air interface. This means that if the focus on the earthquakes is less than ~5 km below where the rocky seabed meets the liquid sea, the seismic energy passes through the interface as if there were no barrier at all. In other words, if the seaquake that sank Scorpion was only ~5 km deep, the seismic shock would have hit this nuclear submarine as if it were setting directly on top of the focal point. Knocking the wide starboard diving plane off the Scorpion would have a been cakewalk since it was already cracked. No mechanical structure could stay together after such a hit, especially a submarine ready to fall apart on its own.

As strange as it may seem, not one single whale scientists has ever asked whether or not natural undersea seismic upheavals are harmful to diving whales, dolphins, polar bears, seals, walruses, dugongs, fishes with swim bladders, or sea turtles. What makes this total lack of scientific inquiry even more amazing is that older books and digitized newspaper archives beginning in the 1700s (link) through 2009 (link) are filled with reports of fishes, whales, and ships suffering severe damage and mass death brought on by exposure to violent undersea seismic disturbances.

This is not a mere oversight. Rather, it is a purposeful cover-up to keep from exposing the Scorpion fiasco. The next question is what could possibly motivate whale scientists to ignore the most violent forces in our oceans?

Precisely how P and S waves (seismic waves) generated by an earthquake in the seabed cross the boundary between the solid earth and the water to become seaquake waves is not so complicated; however, a proper explanation deals with depth of focus, takeoff angles, fault types, type of rocks in the seabed, seafloor terrain, direction of movement in the fault, speed of any vertical acceleration, and other factors far too boring for most folks. For these reasons, it would be a serious mistake to presume that seafloor earthquakes of the same magnitude generate similar hydro-acoustic shocks and vibrations.

Calculating the actual changes in ambient water pressure to which whales might be exposed is extremely difficult because the pressure in the water is not so much related to the magnitude of the earthquake. Rather, the intensity of a seaquake wave is more related to the strong ground motion near the epicenter.

Water is like the wind; it flows from zones of high pressure toward zones of low pressure. Thus, the faster the rocky bottom jerks in the vertical component of the peak ground velocity, the less time the water has to flow to the edges of the epicenter, the greater is the pressure to which diving whales are exposed.

In addition, local geologic structures such as vertical cliffs and steep mountains along the mid-oceanic ridges serve to focus or defocus both P- wave and Rayleigh wave energy, leading to significant differences in ambient water pressure over short distances. There is simply no good way to estimate or calculate this focusing effect, especially without a detailed sketch of the seabed. Seismic sea waves can also combine in ways to double their intensity or to cancel each other. The variables are far too many to allow anything other than a good guess.

These powerful pressure changes were originally called seaquakes until the mid-1960s when Navy seismologists started calling them T-phase waves. T-phase waves is a good name for scientists to use since it does not mean a damned thing to whale lovers around the world. But once educated, a way of investigating the danger to whales posed by seaquakes is to examine sonograms of T-Phase waves recorded at shore-based T-wave stations around the world. But even this process can not be relied upon due to focusing and defocusing and the presences of volcanic mountains between the T-wave station and the epicenter. Besides, T-wave stations record only the energy that becomes trapped in the deep sound channel; they do not record the vertical energy that is most dangerous to diving whales.

Nonetheless, there are thousands of reports of powerful T-phase waves in the scientific literature. For example, an earthquake near the Island of Tonga sent a series of pressure oscillations (seaquake waves) 3,000 kilometers across the Pacific Ocean to strike the drop off edge of Tahiti, reenter the solid earth, and shake the entire island so furiously that the inhabitants thought a local earthquake had occurred (link).  Can you imagine what would happen if these seaquake waves crisscrossed over the bodies of a pod of diving pilot whales?

In 2003, an earthquake on dry land, near the New Zealand shore, generated a disturbance in the nearby water that roared 1,800 kilometers across the middle of the Tasman Sea, hit the Australian Coast near Sidney, and shook the area so hard that it scared the local population (link). If these waves could cross the Tasman Sea and shake the continent of Australia, could they also induce some sort of injury in a diving pod of pilot whales?

A seaquake also put the US Navy on notice. In 1919, six heavy battleships from the Navy’s Pacific Fleet were shaken fiercely by an undersea quake off the coast of Mexico. The big battleship New Mexico trembled from bow to stern (link) suggesting that seaquakes could indeed be dangerous to both shipping and whales.

However, starting in the 1930′, reports of seaquake-vessel encounters began to decline. One reason owners and their captains stopped reporting these events was because a public record of a seaquake encounter could destroy the resale value of a used vessel, or might lead to a lawsuit later if the new buyer discovered that his purchase had been whacked by a seaquake.

Listen to the sound of a distant a seaquake.  Imagine what it might feel like to a pod of acoustically sensitive whales feeding on squid one kilometer above the epicenter. The first half is earthquake sound that traveled through the solid earth. The second portion features the quake vibrations that traveled 900 miles through the ocean before being recorded. You hear the earth sounds first because they travel faster than the hydroacoustic signals.

Professor Harald Sverdrup, the renown former Director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, best described seaquakes over 60 years ago when he wrote: “Waves in the sea caused by earthquakes are of two different types. In the first place a submarine earthquake may produce longitudinal oscillations that proceed at the velocity of sound waves. When reaching the surface, such longitudinal oscillations will be felt on board a ship as a shock that violently rocks the vessel. The shock may be so severe that the sailors believe their vessel has struck a rock, and several such reported “rocks” were indicated on early charts in waters where recent soundings have shown that the depth to the bottom is several thousand meters. There are many ship reports dealing with shock waves, particularly from regions in which seismological records show that submarine earthquakes are frequent. Explosion waves of this character usually occur as independent phenomena, but occasionally they are accompanied by the release of large amounts of gases that rise toward the surface and may lift the surface up like a dome, thus producing a transverse wave that behaves like any other gravitational wave. Observations of this kind of waves are rare, but it is possible that ships which have been lost at sea have been completely destroyed by such enormous disturbances. A wave of this nature spreads out from the place where it is formed and decreases in amplitude. By the time it reaches the coast, it has usually become so reduced that it does not cause much damage. (see page #543 at this link)

Common sense leaves you with only one conclusion: a seaquake can easily blow out the sinuses of a pod of dolphins.

Artificial underwater earthquakes can also by used as naval weapons. This gives an alternation reason the classify seaquakes as top-secret. The only problem is the cat is already out of the bag. All the US Navy can do now is control in new information such as seaquakes causes whales to beach themselves.

The evidence of using seaquakes as a weapon leaked out a long time ago. In 1944, New Zealand scientists suggested to Admiral “Bull” Halsey, Commander of the Pacific Fleet, that an artificial earthquake at sea could generate a tsunami wave that would flood the coast of Japan and reduce their will to fight the war (link). The newly formed Office of Naval Research got involved and started a top-secret program to generate artificial seaquakes, not only against Japan in the form of a tsunami waves, but also as a clandestine method to destroy a few Soviet submarines during the “Cold War” and blame the loss on Mother Nature. As a result of this secret program, a lot of seaquake research fell into a black hole of military secrecy and has remained there ever since. It would be interested indeed if the Office of Naval Research would make available the extensive scientific literature on seaquakes that they now classify as top-secret.

Maybe secrecy is why the Navy insisted on changing the name to T-Phase Waves?

Seaquakes can also sink/destroy oil tankers!

On 28 February 1969, the crude oil carrier ‘Ida Knudsen’, a 32,000-tonne vessel built in 1958, was sailing in ballast from Lisbon to the Persian Gulf when it experienced a ‘violent vertical shock’. Thank God… it was not loaded with crude. The incident happened at about 02:45 AM (GMT) when the ship was at a position 36.12N by 10.70W where the water was over 16,000 feet deep. The vessel sustained very serious structural damage. The binnacle, compass and permanent radio instruments were ripped off the walls and collapsed in the wheelhouse, chart room and radio station. Doors and fixtures in the superstructure were torn loose and thrown about. The signal mast with the radar scanner was distorted and all its cross-bars were broken. Damage in the superstructure was more serious at midships than at the aft peak. From eyewitness accounts it appears that the vessel was lifted up bodily, the bow moving up faster than the stern, and then the whole ship slammed back with violent vibrations, the whole event lasting about ten seconds. Serious damage was also caused both to the machinery and hull where piping was broken and leakage developed between tanks. After hours of drifting and with a misaligned propeller shaft, the ship returned to Lisbon where it was dry docked and surveyed (link). The surveys proved that the hull, machinery and other equipment had sustained great damage and, on account of the permanent deformation and breaks, the ship had lost a substantial part of her longitudinal strength. The complete surface of the vessel’s skin from one oil tank to the next buckled, in places with permanent sets of 4cm. The hull was twisted to port by 18cm. Bulkheads, hull frames and girders were buckled or torn apart and all the wing tanks leaked. Moreover, the bottom parts of the side platings were torn away from the girders, in places by as much as 5cm, effects resembling those from an underwater mine explosion. The ship was a total loss.

A seaquake even scared scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution while they were doing a seismic survey on board the RV Chain. The bridge rang the general alarm and the ship was stopped. Opinion on the cause of the disturbance varied. Some people thought the ship had run aground or hit a submerged object; others, that a shaft or screw had broken. After the ship was stopped, the array was brought aboard for fear it would foul the screws. During this time the seismic recording gear was left running (link).

The intensity of the injurious seaquake waves varies. For a more detailed scientific treatment on the subject, my readers are directed to, “Effects of Seaquakes on Floating Structures” by Kyoichi Okamoto and Masaaki Sakuta, researchers at Nihon University in Chiba, Japan (link). Scientific references are found at the end of this article. More informative scientific information can be found starting on page 20 of a book written by two of Russia’s top geophysicists (link).

There are valid reasons why modern vessels do not report seaquakes.  For one, ship owners would be downright foolish to allow their captains to report a seaquake encounter to the media since a public record of such an event would destroy the ship’s resale/mortgage value and cause complications in the event a legitimate insurance claim was made at a later date.

The most-often-reported marine insurance casualties today comes from striking an unknown submerged object, a sudden unexplained cargo shift, a broken pipe in the engine room, or just ordinary structural damage in a heavy sea. All of them could be caused by an encounter with seaquake shock waves.  In other words, seaquakes are just as active today as they were a hundred years ago–only the reporting of these events has changed.

Regardless, there is still lots of evidence to show that a mighty force of nature should be the number one suspect in every whale mass stranding.

Seismologists C.E. Nishimura, Acoustics Division, Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D.C. 20373 estimated the intensity of a seaquake one meter above the epicenter of a shallow magnitude 7 event at ~280 decibels re: 1mPa, which is the pressure equivalent of 14,500 pounds per square inch. He gave me this estimate during a personal phone meeting.

Scientists from Goddard Space Flight Center (link) estimated the shock wave from two major undersea earthquakes off the coast of California at six kilobars (90,000 pounds per square inch).

Conservative estimates of pressure changes in the water several thousand meters above the epicenter of a magnitude 5.5 earthquake range from 200 to 500 pounds per square inch. Since these LF waves travel as a series of compressions and dilations with an average frequency of 7 cycles per second, water pressure at a given depth above a magnitude 5.5 quake would momentarily rise by ~400 pounds per square inch above ambient and then a split second later drop to ~400 pounds per square inch below ambient effectively altering the surrounding water pressure by ~800 pounds per square inch, seven times every second.

There’s more. On 28 August 1997, the front page of the Washington Times reported that seismic stations around the world had detected a powerful underwater explosion offshore near a Russian nuclear test facility on Novaya Zemlya, a small island in the Kara Sea. The first impression of many government scientists was that the Russians had exploded an underwater nuclear device with a yield between 10 to 1,000 tons of TNT in violation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. CIA geologists insisted that the explosive nature of the event was proof of a nuclear explosion, while others felt the seismic spectrum was that of a magnitude 3.5 shallow-focused earthquake that had erupted in the upper crust with explosive characteristics. The argument went back and forth in the newspapers and was finally resolved three months later when two Columbia University seismologists released evidence that indeed a shallow earthquake had ruptured through the brittle layer of the seafloor near the Russian test site. (link)

It turned out to be a false alarm created by the CIA; however, the point is that the quibbling back and forth between the world’s best seismologists shows just how tough it is to tell the difference between an explosive volcanic/tectonic earthquake at 3.5 magnitude and a small nuclear device. The difficulty is easy to understand since the energy released during a magnitude 4.2 event is equal to that released by 1,000 tons on TNT. Allow me to repeat; the energy released underwater by a magnitude 4.2 earthquake in the seafloor is equivalent to exploding a 40-foot-long boxcar packed full of TNT.

There’s still more… The TNT equivalent of Little Boy, the nuclear bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, was 15,000 tons. The energy equivalent of the average earthquake (mag. 5.2) thought responsible for most mass strandings is 32,000 tons (link), twice as powerful as Little Boy.

Seaquake waves move through the water as alternating compressions and rarefactions (dilations). Said differently, half the wave is high pressure while the other half is an equal but opposite low pressure or vacuum. In situations where the low pressure phase is strong enough to counterbalance ambient pressure and create a vacuum, the water molecules are pulled apart and the water starts boiling in a process known as cavitation. This process explains why the experts often find air bubbles in the blood and in the heart muscles in whales exposed to seaquakes.

The destructive power of a seaquake comes from the momentum gather when two opposing “faults” in the rocky bottom, that may have been locked together for decades, suddenly moves apart in the vertical plane. The results is that the seabed accelerates briefly to ~8,000 km/h, unleashing huge qualities of stored energy and creating a violent shaking movement of up to a meter per second roughly perpendicular to the water’s surface. The rocky seabed bounces up and down during the quaking like a gigantic piston many miles in diameter, pushing and pulling at the water column, generating powerful pressure oscillations that travel upward at 1,500 meters per second. In general, strong ground motion near the heart of the epicenter will cause a ship directly above the epicenter to experience violent shock waves, whereas a ship at distances of more than ~50 miles from the epicenter will experience severe trembling and shaking. The nuclear submarine USS Scorpion may have been directly above the epicenter.

The most likely injury inflicted upon diving whales exposed to rapid and excessive oscillations in ambient pressure is barotraumatic in nature that will disable their echo-navigation system and prevent them from diving and feeding themselves.

Just like humans exposed to falling buildings, many whales exposed to excessive pressure changes will recover. Those that do not, stand an excellent chance that the surface currents will guide them to a beach.

A hundred years ago, in an effort to improve and catalog seaquake reports, the Strassburg Seismological Station produced the following special guide for observing and reporting seaquakes:

Data Desired by Strassburg Seismological Station Relative to Seaquakes

Position of the ship at the time of the earthquake. What course was the ship sailing and how many knots was she making?

Place of the observer.  Was the seaquake felt by the observer below deck or on deck?

Time of seaquake. At what moment was the seaquake perceived?

Kind of motion.
(a) Merely trembling or shaking or shocks?
(b) Was the motion vertical or undulatory?
(e) Were the shocks preceded by a trembling motion or were they followed by such motion?
(d) What is the motion to be compared to, and what impression did it make upon the observer?

Direction of the propagation of the motion. Was the direction of the motion from bow to stern or vice versa, or can a certain direction by the compass be stated?

The intensity of the earthquake is to be given in degrees of the following scale:
(a) Quite slight trembling, more like a noise; mostly heard only below deck (III Rossi-Forel scale).
(b) Slight trembling, by which a sleeping crew might be awakened (IV Rossi-Forel scale)
(c) Whole sip trembling, such as might be caused by large casks being rolled across the deck (IV Rossi-Forel scale).
(d) Moderate shaking like that felt when the anchor cable is quickly slipped (IV Rossi-Forel scale).
(e) Rather a strong shaking, as if the ship were scraping on rough ground (IV Rossi-Forel scale).
(f) Strong shaking by which light things moved; wheel jerks in the hands of the steersman (V and VI Rossi-Forel scale).
(g) Very strong shaking to make the timber work crack and to render it impossible to stand (VII Rossi-Forel scale).
(h) Very strong shocks; masts and rigging and heavy things on deck are shaken (VIII Rossi-Forel scale).
(i) Exceedingly strong shaking by shocks; the ship is thrown on its side, slackens, or is stopped (IX Rossi-Forel scale).
(j) Destructive; people are thrown down upon deck, the joints of the deck burst, the ship becomes leaky (X Rossi-Forel scale).

Did the intensity vary with the single shocks or during the whole phenomenon

Duration of the seaquake.
(a) What was the duration of the shaking itself, apart from the noise by which it was accompanied.
(b) Were there single phases to be distinguished in the phenomenon?

Sounds.(a) Was a noise heard, and what was it to be compared to?
(b) Did the noise precede the shaking, was it at the same time, or did it follow it?

Sea surface phenomena(a) What was the state of the sea surface before the seaquake took place?
(b) Did it remain in the same condition, or did any changes take place during the seaquake?
(c) Was a single peculiarly high wave observed or a succession of them (height and length)?
(d) Was the level of the sea, although smooth, raised, or did it bubble like boiling water?10. The Compass. Did a sudden variation of the needle take place during the seaquake?

Meteorological phenomena.
(a) Was the temperature of the sea water higher after the seaquake than it was before?
(b) What was the atmospheric pressure?

Extension of the seaquake.
(a) Were any other ships near at the time of the seaquake, and, if so, at what distance.
(b) Was the seaquake perceived by them or not?

Earthquake and seaquake. In case the ship is lying in a harbor, inquiries are to be made on land concerning:
(a) The beginning.
(b) The intensity.
(c) The duration of the earthquake.

What difference was there between the earthquake and the seaquake as to these three points? Condition of the sea in the harbor during an earthquake and a seaquake.
(a) Had the shaking any influence upon the water in the harbor?
(b) Dill any breakers come in at the moment of the shaking or immediately after it, and if so, how many, how high, at what intervals?
(c) Did the ship drag her anchor and were any currents perceptible.
(d) Did a so-called earthquake tidal wave take place, and if so, how long after the beginning of the earthquake; how many waves, what height, at what intervals?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.