Experts bust animal earthquake myths following Melbourne tremors

·News and Video Producer
·4-min read

An animal's mythical ability to predict earthquakes likely has a more scientific explanation, a companion animal expert has revealed.

Some pet owners in Melbourne reported their animals acting strangely before today's 5.9 magnitude earthquake struck.

Buddy, an English Staffordshire terrier began barking and running about before the ground began to shake, according to his owner, 42-year-old eastern suburbs resident Jamie McCarney.

Dogs often vocalise when they are scared by an earthquake. Source: Gettty
Dogs often vocalise when they are scared by an earthquake. Source: Getty - File

"From what I could tell, he started making the noise he would when someone's at the gate before the earthquake began," he told Yahoo News Australia. 

"He then ran back and forth, up and down the house barking."

Animal earthquake premonition myth busted

At first glance, Mr McCarney's description is consistent with Sydney University veterinarian Dr Anne Quain's understanding of companion pet behaviour during earthquakes. 

Tremors will elicit vocalisations in dogs, which take the form of barking and howling. They are also commonly observed moving around the room, while cats usually leave the vicinity.

Where Dr Quain's scientific understanding diverts from Mr McCarney's experience is on the subject of earthquake prediction. 

The veterinarian argues animals reacting before tremors begin remains anecdotal, and she is yet to see conclusive evidence that supports this.

Cats will often run away when spooked by tremors. Source: Getty
Cats will often run away when spooked by tremors. Source: Getty - File

“There's lots of anecdotal reports of animals behaving strangely in the time preceding earthquakes,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

“Sometimes that is seconds, sometimes it's minutes, sometimes longer periods of time where animals act differently.

“It’s believed that they’re actually reacting to foreshock, or small earthquakes that we don't feel before the biggest seismic events.

“There's no conclusive evidence that they have some sort of extrasensory ability to predict earthquakes.”

How pet owners can protect animals during earthquakes

After today's earthquake, Dr Quain saw a number of reports on social media of cats going missing.

With aftershocks predicted in the coming days, she is urging pet owners to ensure their animals are microchipped and their records are up to date.

Buddy (pictured) became agitated before his owner noticed the earthquake. Source: Supplied - File
Buddy (pictured) became agitated before his owner noticed the earthquake. Source: Supplied - File

“One of the biggest learnings we've had around animals in earthquakes was centred around Christchurch (in 2011),” she said.

“There was a lot of damage to property, and a lot of animals escaped, because if they're afraid of something, their instinct is often to run.

“Making sure we keep animals in a safe environment, making sure we do have an evacuation plan for them, making sure they have up to date identification is really important.

“Of course, we never know when an emergency situation is going to happen, so today is a good reminder.”

More on Wednesday's earthquake:

Melbourne's famous falcons not phased by earthquake

While domestic animals tend to flee, peregrine falcons which famously live in the heart of Melbourne behaved in the opposite manner.

CCTV footage, which monitors the nesting pair near the top of 367 Collins Street, captured the response of the male when the building began to shake.

Many viewers initially thought a falcon living in Melbourne had been scared by the tremors. Source: Mirvac / VPP
Many viewers initially thought a falcon living in Melbourne had been scared by the tremors. Source: Mirvac / VPP

The male bird can be seen walking off the nest and walking to the edge of the ledge before cocking his head to the side.

He then vocalises with a high-pitched call before jumping off the building.

Victorian Peregrine Project founder Dr Victor Hurley, who has been working with building owner Mirvac to monitor the pair, said while some thought the bird was fleeing, he was in fact working to protect the nest.

Having studied the species for over 30 years, he believes their reaction was a “furious” move intended to drive away any potential threat.

“It’s not out of fear, it’s more out of protection,” he said.

"They're scared of nothing.”

Dr Hurley describes their behaviour as a “normal” reaction to an “unusual circumstance”.

“It’s pretty unusual for a building to be shaking and rattling so that’s something they won’t have experienced and understandably they’re instantly concerned about what they need to check out,” he said.

“The first thing the male did was to look around, walk to the edge, take off, and probably fly up above to the height of the building to see if he could see something that’s causing the noise and movement.

“It stopped soon after and the female was soon back on the nest.”

Reassuringly Dr Hurley believes the eggs would not have been shaken hard enough by the earthquake to be damaged.

He said the eggs are two-thirds of the way through incubation, meaning chicks will likely be hatching soon.

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