BALEEN WHALES CAN DETECT EARTHQUAKES IN ADVANCE!
Whales sense earthquakes long before humans. Just as early tsunami warnings hit the Indonesian and Sri Lanka coasts last week, observers at sea watched as every species of cetacean – from massive blue whales to small spinner dolphins – disappeared within five minutes. British photographer and film-maker Andrew Sutton, who was filming 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 seismic danger and fled. (Link)
Such evidence is not new!
See more evidence below.
My 50+ years of whale research convinces me that if we put in the needed effort, whales can teach us how to detect earthquakes and explosive volcanoes before they occur.
However, from what we now know about their lives and dangers they face, whales might as well be aliens from another planet. While many humans consider whales to be mindless creatures programmed only with instincts, others know them as being capable of coherent thought and emotions far beyond our imagination.
The likely truth is that whales are ten times more intelligent in their water world than we are in ours. And that’s the way it should be because they have ~50 million more years of experience living in the oceans than we have lived on land.
And just like humans, the greatest danger diving whales face comes from natural catastrophic upheavals. In fact, for every one seismic upheaval on land, there are nine such events in the backyards of whales. To make matters even worse for the greatest divers our planet has ever known, the sudden vertical shifting of the seabed during a violent seismic eruption pushes and pulls against the water column generating huge changes in hydrostatic water pressure. Couple this bit of information with the knowledge that the greatest danger any air-breathing diver faces is barotrauma in the cranial air spaces induced by sudden changes in water pressures while submerged.
Barotrauma/barosinusitis in diving whales is likely the greatest cause of beachings. The most likely causes of sudden changes in water pressure that might injure whales are (1) thrusting seabed earthquakes, (2) volcanic explosions, (3) the sudden collapse of an undersea volcanic caldera, and (4) the great impact of a heavenly body with the water’s surface.
Barotrauma in the most common injury in all divers. It is deadly in whales since it prevents them from diving and feeding themselves. That’s why postmortem examination shows severe dehydration in 90% of all beached whales and also why they have no fresh food in the stomach. Some whales, starving due to a pressure-related diving injury, will swallow plastic and almost anything else they see floating nearby, hoping it is digestible.
Do we need help from whales?
Mega-quake warnings along the Cascadia Fault in California are at an all-time high! Such events (including tsunamis) have killed more humans than all other disasters put together, claiming nearly a million lives in the last 15 years alone. The number of deaths predicted in the near future is hundreds of times greater due to the growing population. And it seems that unless we react now, a series of major seismic disasters might even wipe out the entire United States, killing you and your loved ones before you can do anything to save them!
And this is not the idea of a salty old sea captain. Many earthquake forecasters feel the same way. From hundreds of sources, the greatest danger the Earth faces now is the supervolcano that underlies the Yellowstone National Park.
As shocking as this BBC Documentary is, there are even more surprising findings. Scientists recently discovered that ground around Yellowstone’s Supervolcano is heating up rapidly but not from volcanic magma. Instead, the heat is coming from a massive field of carbon greater in size than the entire country of Mexico.
What is it going to take to set off Yellowstone’s Supervolcano? Many experts think the seismic P and S waves from a nearby mega-quake (mag 9+) in California might just do the job. It just so happens that there is another nearby mega-quake that might also erupt at any moment along the banks of the Mississippi River. In other words, the US could get hit almost simultaneously by two mega-quakes that would, in turn, set off the Yellowstone Supervolcano. Or, if the supervolcano went first, seismic waves from this eruption is sure to set off the two mega-quakes.
The first event is likely to occur along the Cascadia Fault Zone running north to south from Seattle to San Francisco along the US West Coast.
Your guess is as good as mine if this event will happen in your lifetime. But if it does, you can bet that seismic P and S waves will travel the short distance to Yellowstone’s Supervolcano.
And pay close attention to the video below if your family lives within 700 miles of Saint Louis, Missouri or Memphis, Tennessee!
As scary as the above sounds, these two mega-quakes are not the greatest danger your families faces. The supervolcano at the center of Yellowstone National Park will be 100 million times more deadly than the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Looking at the odds that one of the three killer events might occur is frightening. When you add the likelihood that active seismic shocks from the first tectonic eruption will travel a few thousand miles and trip the second and the third events, it becomes frightening beyond anyone’s wildest nightmare. The fallout from such a one-two-three punch would spread at least a meter of volcanic ash all across our country, spelling the end of the United States.
Furthermore, the carbon below Yellowstone might turn into carbon dioxide which can cause both global warming and ice ages depending on the levels of CO2 in the upper atmosphere.However, if I am right about baleen whales, we would get a 3-week warning so we could gather our loved ones and escape before hell arrives! We might also get a warning from the oarfish (
However, if I am right about baleen whales, we would get a 3-week warning so we could gather our loved ones and escape before hell arrives! We might also get a warning from the oarfish (hundreds of examples) if we just make an effort to find the key to how whales and oarfish get their warnings.
WHALES CAN DETECT MAJOR EARTHQUAKES AND VOLCANIC EXPLOSIONS WEEKS IN ADVANCE!
How do we know? The answer is simple: whales flee from the site of strong earthquakes >6.5 magnitude 3 to 4 weeks before they occur. They seem to be even more sensitive than the oarfish.
There are many modern and historical accounts of this phenomenon. Click this link for a recent example from 2016 in which whales appeared early in San Francisco Bay to avoid a strong 7.8 magnitude quake that devastated Ecuador’s coastline.
Another strange incident occurred from November 2012 to July 2013 when ~500 North Atlantic right whales did not show up at their usual feeding grounds off Cape Cod. It just so happened that on April 12, 2012, a rapid series of five earthquakes occurred east of Cape Cod and South of the southern tip of Nova Scotia all within a few hours. Five moderate events, one after the next, released a tremendous amount of tectonic stress. There is a good possibility that hundreds of small non-detectable aftershocks occur on the causative fault or its extension into the deeper earth. Scientists call the movement afterslip. It may happen in the form of frequent earthquakes or as slow slip events not detected by seismic stations.
Another process that occurs after an earthquake is a relaxation of the ductile rock that underlies the uppermost crust. While most earthquakes take place in the uppermost crust because frictional resistance is high (and hence stress builds up over long periods of time), few occur in the deeper crust or underlying mantle because the rock temperature is too high to let stress accumulation. Instead, the flow of the hot rock relieves the stress. Scientists call the depth where brittle fracture becomes ductile flow the “brittle-ductile transition zone,” and it coincides with the maximum depth of seabed quakes, typically 10-30 km.
The point here is that if the silent afterslip gives off precursory danger signals detectable by North Atlantic Right Whales, it would indeed explain why they avoided the area. They might have understood the seafloor was still under stress and a potential danger to themselves and their young.
HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF OFTEN
And below is a historical account of whales fleeing long before a big quake:
1835 Feb 20: Effect of the Earthquake at Sea.—On the 20th February (1835), the same day that Concepcion, Chile, and nearby places were destroyed, Captain Whitton, in the whaling ship Nile of this port, was cruising for whales off the coast of Chile, in latitude 39° W. He felt the shock so sensibly that the spars and rigging over his head shook in such a way that it was dangerous to stand under them. Thinking that the vessel had run around, he immediately wore ship and hove the lead, but finding no bottom with twenty fathoms of line, concluded it was an earthquake.
On a later visit to Talcahuano, his suspicions were confirmed, in the desolation and ruin which that once thriving port, then presented; as also in the fact, that the water in the bay was five or six feet lower than the usual depth. Captain Townsend states that he has been on the coast of Chili a number of voyages during the same month, and thinks he never knew such a scarcity of whales, fish, and fowls, as in the present year. It is the general opinion that the earthquake has had a tendency to drive them from the coast. Shock was very sensibly felt by Captain Cotton, of ship Loper, 600 miles from land.—New Bedford Gazette. (Army and Navy Chronicle Volume 1, 1835) (link — see page 210). You can also find the story in the right column page 405 of this book)
Capt. Townsend is reporting that whales off the Chilean coast could sense the quake coming, and left long before it struck.
In a third example, scientists observed that a fin whale exposed to a magnitude 5.1 earthquake in the Gulf of California on 22 February 2005 swam 13 km from the epicenter in 26 min (mean speed = 30.2 km/ h) — a speed that indicates the presence of stress and danger. These scientists thought the sound of the quake triggered a seismic-escape response. Maybe it was the potential of an aftershock that scared them?
The problem with the idea of “fleeing from the sound” is that the focus of the quake was 41 km below the seafloor. The sound of such an event would spread out in a 360-degree circle the entire 41 km before it reached the water. It would have been about as loud as a whale passing gas. On the other hand, silent aftershock precursors from the quake might have alarmed the whale causing it to scamper away? The scientists based their opinion on the hypothesis of Richardson et al. (1995) saying that cetaceans flee before loud sounds injure them. This observation is likely true, but it is also likely true that whales flee from precursor signals emitted by pending foreshocks and aftershock activity.
Moreover, all calving grounds are free of whale-dangerous earthquakes. My group examined whale calving areas around the world and found that these nurseries are completely void of seismic activity above 4.5 magnitude. At this point is our research, earthquakes <4.5 and >6.5 do not seem injurious to whales. Quakes less than 4.5 do not release enough energy into the Hydrospace. Quakes above 6.5 give off detectable precursory signals. The locations of these earthquake-safe zones have likely been passed down from mother to daughter for many millions of years.
WHY DID WHALES EVOLVE THIS ABILITY
IN THE FIRST PLACE?
Professor Peter Wille, the former head of NATO’s Undersea Research Center, writes in his book Sound Images of the Ocean that the marine environment is disturbed by “the rumblings of about 7,000 outstanding, dramatic geodynamic earthquake events per year worldwide, each of a thousand tons TNT-equivalent and more” (page 38). His job was to determine the acoustic differences between underwater nuclear explosions and natural catastrophic seafloor eruptions, so he ought to know. Professor Wille adds, “If evolution has achieved inurement of marine mammals against such terrifying noise events is speculative though probable.”
A thousand tons of TNT is almost equal to the nuclear bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945. Could whales flourish for 55 million years with 7,000 Hiroshima bombs going off near them every year if they received no warning whatsoever? Changes in the surrounding water pressure generated when the sea floor either explodes or dances up and down rapidly are a hundred times more deadly to diving mammals than to land dwellers because diving mammals capture air and bring it underwater in their sinuses and lungs. Water is not compressible, but the air is. So when the water above an earthquake transmits the full force of the disturbance, whales, fishes with swim bladders and sea turtles will feel unimaginably intense torture in their cranial and extracranial air spaces.
Every small boy knows what happens if he submerges his head underwater and smashes two stones together. A solid blow causes pain in and around his sinuses. Similarly, the passage of earthquake shock waves through a whale’s sinuses makes the sinuses contract and expand with dangerous and damaging intensity.
HOW SEISMIC SHOCKS DAMAGE
WHALE AIR SINUSES
Underwater earthquake shocks (aka; seaquakes) are not felt as a single blow because the force that causes the shock waves is not one big bang. Rather, the rapid pressure change comes as a series of wrenching snaps, as massive rocks, twisted and strained out of alignment by forces accumulated slowly over centuries, suddenly lurch back toward an alignment that relieves the stress. The result is that solid rock, which normally moves only with the passing of geological ages, accelerates briefly to 8000 kilometers per hour, unleashing huge quantities of energy and creating a series of violent hydrostatic pressure waves.
If this snap back to realignment occurs in a vertical plane, as it does during both normal and reverse (thrust) faulting, and the hypocenter (focus) is between 8 and 20 km below the rock-water interface, the p-waves will impact the rocky seabed and cause it to dance up and down like the skin of a drum many miles in diameter. This sudden up and down motion pushes and pulls at the bottom of the incompressible water, generating a series of low-frequency changes in the surrounding water pressure that speed towards the surface at 1,500 meters per second.
HOW UNDERWATER VIBRATION TRAVEL
Sound waves moving through a liquid consist of half cycles of compressions (positive pressure phases) and dilations (negative pressure phases). During the compression phase, the air in the cranial sinuses of a pod of diving whales would rapidly compress. During the dilatation phase, the air inside their heads would instantly expand.
Diving exposes the cranial air spaces in cetaceans to dramatic changes in pressure. Boyle’s Law states that the product of the pressure and volume of a gas is a constant for a fixed amount of gas at a fixed temperature. Therefore, as cetaceans dive, the increasing ambient pressure will cause a decrease in the volume of air held in a closed chamber (e.g., sinuses, air cells, middle ear, air sacs, nasal cavity, larynx, trachea, and lungs). These divers encounter rapid changes in pressures during diving and ascent back to the surface. These pressure changes pose a challenge to maintaining the structural integrity of air-filled chambers, particularly those with rigid walls (such as the paranasal sinuses).
Cetaceans are the most prolific divers our world has ever known. The most common injury in ALL DIVERS (whales included) is sinus and middle ear barotrauma caused by rapid and excessive changes in diving pressures that exceed their ability to counterbalance.
Going back many thousands of years, trying to find out if land-dwelling animals can detect seismic precursors a few hours in advance has been the goal of many scholars. They failed because they overlooked the fact that ten times as many strong seismic upheavals occur under the ocean’s surface in the backyard of whales, and dolphins.
Dangerous changes in water pressure induced by natural seafloor disturbances have batter whales for 55 million years. If would be impossible for them to flourish without seismic prediction abilities simply because nine out of every ten earthquakes that happen on our planet occur along mid-ocean ridge faults and along subduction faults near the edges of continents. These oceanic fault zones are 10 times longer than the faults on land.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WHALES CAN’T ESCAPE?
Because the air-filled cranial hollows of acousticete whales serve as acoustic mirrors that enable their echo-navigation and echolocation, sinus injury can have devastating effects: it will not only prevent them from diving and feeding themselves but will also destroy their acoustic sense of direction. The same applies to mysticetes even though they are not as acoustically advanced as acousticete.
Some think baleen whales follow a geomagnetic compass but there no evidence to back such an idea. Scientists have observed baleen whales moving around geomagnetic highs leading some scientists to claim that they must use a magnetic compass. Other scientists have also advance claims that whales swim into sandy beaches at magnetic minima.
Beach sand contains tiny bits of magnetite washed into the sea from land. Since the shifting sand orientates the magnetite in all direction, the magnetic north and south of each grain often oppose its neighbor giving the entire beach a magnetic minimum.
The same scientists that came up with the above nonsense say the same sensitivity to geomagnetic fluctuations seems to enable whales to navigate great length along geomagnetic ocean ”highways” too and from their breeding grounds. The researchers, led by Dr. Joseph Kirschvink, Professor of Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology, studied records of whale and dolphin strandings along many beaches from Florida to New England.
Their findings, reported by the American Geophysical Union, did not explain why the animals entered shallow waters or swam onto shore and stranded. But the research showed that the whales and dolphins, of many species, tended to be beached where the magnetic field was weakest. There are no strong magnetic fields at any beach unless it just happens to be composed of black volcanic sand. No such black beaches are located along the US Atlantic Coast.
But seeking out magnetic lows might indeed by a tactic of avoiding geomagnetic highs emitted by pending earthquakes. In other words, the whales might be attempting to swim away from dangerous seismic areas.
As to acousticete, an entire pod of submerged whales, busy feeding on squid, might be caught off-guard by a seaquake with no detectable precursors and suffer serious barotraumatic injuries in their cranial and middle ear air spaces to the point where their echo-navigation system fails. They are left incapable of anything but swimming downstream, eventually being washed into a sandy area by the incoming tide—this is why whales beach.
Resistance to swimming against any drag force presented by the flow of the current will act like a wind vane, turning the streamlined bodies of the lost cetaceans and pointing them downstream toward the path of least resistance. Because the downstream current is the same energy that carries each grain of sand to beaches, lost whales will eventually be guided to a sandy area that is in the process of accretion, not to an area where sand is eroding. The wind-driven surface currents, which often increase the flow of the incoming tide, will also help guide the lost, dehydrated, and malnourished whales to the sandy beach.
HUMAN THREATS TO WHALES
Undersea earthquakes, volcanic explosions, and meteorites crashing into the ocean’s surface generate shock waves in excess of 100,000 pounds per square inch. Humans have now achieved the same frightening capacity with military sonar, underwater explosions, and seismic air guns.
Since natural and human-induced disturbances in ambient water pressure cause identical barotraumatic injuries to underwater mammals, those responsible for creating man-made disturbances must deny the danger of natural undersea upheavals least they reveal how their instruments do the same. Said differently, if the World’s Navies and the Oil Industry expose how nature has caused beachings for millions of years, they also reveal their own guilt.
Whale scientists have never made this connection because they are mostly sponsored by the US Navy and the oil industry who are trying to cover up their own slaughter of marine life. But other scientists have connected the dots. For example, once we learn exactly what whales detect before major earthquakes, we can try our best to duplicate these signals. If lucky, we will be able to use what we learn to frighten whales away before dangerous oil and military activities even begin.
Whales saving humans would also be a two-way street. If they teach us how to predict major seismic disasters weeks in advance, we will be honor-bound to save them, and foolish not to.
I need lots of volunteers—not money! I need people to dig around on the Internet and help me find whaling catch records going back 300 years. We need to compare the success or failure of whaling in a certain area with the record of major earthquakes. We need to find newspaper articles that show that whaling ships caught only a few whales prior to a major earthquake. We also need to show that the whales moved out of the area prior to a big quake. Languages besides English will help us broaden our search efforts.
As soon as we get ~30 researchers, we will set up a procedure so folks can be more productive. I have no doubt that will find what we are looking for. We will move to phase two once we have enough solid evidence to support the hypothesis.
I might add that predicting earthquakes weeks in advance is the Holy Grail of Seismology. A successful effort will no doubt win the Nobel Prize! And this knowledge could save millions of human and whales at the same time.
WHO AM I?
I am a 75-year-old retired commercial sea captain with an unlimited master’s license and 50 years of ocean-going experience. Understanding how whales protect themselves from violent natural seafloor upheavals has obsessed me for all these years.
Capt. David Williams