Just five days after divers discovered a huge 18-foot oarfish off the coast of California, a second 14-foot sea serpent has washed up on a beach in San Diego county. The only other times more than one of these deepwater dwellers have shown up in such short succession, an earthquake struck the surrounding area. In 2010, Japanese fishermen picked up dozens of the deep-sea creatures right around the time a powerful 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck Chile, then again in 2011, 20 oarfish surfaced prior to the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan.
The oarfish is known in Japan as ryugu no tsukai or “messenger from the sea god’s palace.” While that may not be enough to convince most people that oarfish are reliable predictors of earthquakes, Kiyoshi Wadatsumi, a specialist in ecological seismology, gave the claim scientific authority when he told Japan Times that “Deep-sea fish living near the sea bottom are more sensitive to the movements of active faults than those near the surface of the sea.”
Pets, zoo animals and wildlife have been known to act very strangely in the days or minutes before a tremor is felt by humans. Even though many people ignore these signs as anomalies, there have been instances when animals have saved the lives of thousands of people. For example, in February 1975, upon hearing reports that hibernating snakes had abandoned their winter hideouts months before normal, authorities evacuated residents of Haichung, China, which then had a population of one million, just before a 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck the city.
Various theories have been offered to explain what animals can detect that humans can’t; some believe that they can better sense increased levels of positive ions released into the lower atmosphere following tectonic stress. These theories, however, are nowhere near conclusive enough to be used as an early-warning system.