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Better Ask Barry: Do earthquakes make whales “jumpy?”

Watching two humpback whales breach simultaneously is a rare treat. Seeing five others whales do the same thing is even more special. When it happens right after a 4.7 earthquake, you have to wonder: Is there a connection?

Passengers on a Blue Ocean Whale Watch cruise saw the spectacular sight Tuesday.

Two nearby whales breached side-by-side, just after five others had breached not far away.

Scientists with the Monterey Bay Research Institute say the behavior is interesting, but determining the cause is impossible.

John Ryan studies deep sea sounds. Using a hydrophone, he could hear the earthquake strike. It’s depicted by the sharp spike on this graph.

“Could the whales hear or sense the energy of that earthquake in the ocean? I think the answer there is yes,” said Ryan.

As for their reaction?

“Humpback whales were singing before the earthquake. Humpback whales were singing after the earthquake. So there is no evidence, at least during the first listen, that they changed their vocalization behavior,” Ryan explained.

But what about the mass breaching?

“That’s a very different question,” he said, “and we don’t have the data to answer that.”

The whale watchers know what they saw, but science can’t say why it happened.

Any connection between earthquakes and whale behavior will remain a mystery for now, and at this point, the whales aren’t talking … at least to us.

“I remember talking with a friend once,” said Ryan, “and saying there’s got to be ways we can analyze their vocalizations to help us understand the information content. His answer was, John, maybe you just have to be a whale.”

KION 2019

Better Ask Barry / Monterey County / Top Stories

KION546 News Team

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