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 5-6, 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. 23-79 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 in animals.
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 People's 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 People's 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 Tash-kent 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 Extra-sensory 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, 1975-77: Scientists, Cayce, Psychics Speak. New York: Exposition Press, 1974.
Schul, Bill. The Psychic Power of Animals. Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett, 1976.