"In the field of animal psychology, there're growing numbers of people tackling the problem of whether dogs and cats can predict earthquakes," Masayoshi Gondo, the former head of the Kobe Municipal Zoo, tells Weekly Playboy. "If their research bears fruit, it could save many lives even if a huge earthquake strikes Japan."
Spearheading the research is Mitsuaki Ota, a professor of veterinary science at Azabu University, who points out that creatures such as carp have been used in the past to calculate quakes.
"Carp are way too sensitive, picking up even minor temblors up to two weeks before they happen. When carp move, people are forced to evacuate and it affects the economy. Dogs and cats, on the other hand, only detect big earthquakes topping 6 on the Richter Scale and even then only pick them up about three hours before they happen," Ota tells Weekly Playboy. "Dogs and cats tell you a quake is going to happen with just enough time left over to make your escape."
Ota says that plenty of pets in the area -- 30 percent of cats and 20 percent of dogs -- detected the Great Hanshin Earthquake that demolished Kobe and killed over 6,000 in 1995. He says that the dogs that knew about the temblor created such brouhaha their owners had to take them outside and thus avoided being caught indoors when the quake struck.
"Electromagnetic waves are emitted before an earthquake happens. Animals have the ability to detect these electromagnetic waves," Ota says. "Actually, the Thais showed that after last year's Indian Ocean tsunami caused by an earthquake off the coast of Sumatra that not a single animal was killed by the wave. The only answer I can offer for that is that the animals detected the earthquake and then fled to safety."
Kobe Zoo's old boss Gondo concurs.
"There was a huge earthquake in what is now Beijing in China during the 1960s. Premier Zhou Enlai later issued an edict that animals be used to try and detect earthquakes and the Chinese have been using them in the 30 or more years since," the former zookeeper says. "Even though the animals have helped the Chinese minimize earthquake damage, Japanese seismologists have only continued to ignore them."
Academic Ota can understand why furball earthquake detectors lack credibility.
"There's no proof. I only started studying this in earnest about two years ago and I haven't yet successfully predicted an earthquake. Don't forget, dogs and cats only detect big earthquakes that reach 6 or more on the Richter Scale. Until the next huge quake comes, we won't be able to determine whether the predictions are right or not," Ota tells Weekly Playboy. "I need dogs and cats from all over the country to act as earthquake monitors. We had a big earthquake in Niigata (last October), but that went undetected because there were no animals been used for detection there. If we have a national network of dog earthquake detectors, we'll see the results of our study come to fruition quicker."
Ota's website www.ohta-lab.jp