Over the last couple of weeks the NZ Herald ran some excellent articles on new scientific discoveries and their significance for our lives. It was great! So it was rather sad to see this rather uncritical piece on Ken Ring's claim that whale strandings can predict earthquakes – and heartening to see a quote from Peter Griffin, calling Ring's suggestion what it is: pseudoscience. Peter's also gone into more detail on his own blog, but there's a couple of things I'd like to add.
Whale strandings happen relatively frequently, alas! They are not all close in time to major earthquakes and, as Peter points out in his post, any supposed 'predictions' based on them are incredibly vague – not what you'd call an effective early warning system! Back in 2010, at the time of the Canterbury earthquakes, this was Ring's explanation for his putative link between strandings & quakes (comment #89):
The whales have as usual stranded around an earthquake-rich time, because the earthquakes under the sea get them when they chase krill etc along the ocean floor in the undersea trenches. The shell shocked whales then float up and the tide brings them in.
So back then it appears that he thought that whales responded to tectonic events (pretty useless as advance warning). I asked for additional detail at the time (comment #94):
Krill are a key food item for baleen whales, but not toothed whales. Yet baleen whales seem to strand relatively infrequently . Sperm whales (which are toothed whales) do dive deeply – after squid, not krill – but there are no reports of mass sperm whale beachings round NZ in the recent past: something one might have expected if your 'large earthquakes cause strandings' idea had something in it. (Most sperm whale strandings are of solitary animals.) Why no mass strandings along the Canterbury coastline?
I got more bad science in response:
I don't know what indivdual species prefer to chase and eat, or where they chase them, all that is largely immaterial. Many species gravitate towards the ocean floor, especially when the moon is in northern declination and downward currents are instigated, which is when many strandings seem to occur. There is all sorts of feed there.
And so the conversation went on (I doubt there's much to eat on the deep ocean floor if you're a big whale)…
The point is, all this is fairly easy to find using a quick google search. It would have been rather nice if the Herald had done this.
Also, I see KR saying on Twitter that
Earthquakes cause whales and dolphins to beach themselves. There is some rather irrefutable science behind it.
Please can someone with a Twitter account (all right, Kimberley, I'll sign up!) ask just what that science is?