Sixth Sense

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(HOST) Commentator Ruth Page doesn’t think wild animals need a “Sixth Sense” to warn them of tsunamis; feeling earth-motions under their feet might be enough.

(PAGE) Folks in southern India, when the December 26th tsunami struck the coast, later realized that all the animals in the wildlife sanctuary there raced to higher ground and were safe. Not one was caught by the water. Their race for the hills started ten minutes before the first wave hit the coast. In fact, a lighthouse lookout saw the stampede start and was amazed; he wondered what on earth the creatures were afraid of.

In the weeks that followed, speculation ranged widely. Some wondered whether animals had a sixth sense, warning of trouble. Others thought maybe the creatures knew the problem was coming from the coast because they caught sound waves from the sea.

Now, I’m no scientist, but my speculation is different. It doesn’t seem to me surprising that creatures so closely in touch with the earth’s surface – walking, running and even sleeping on it at times – might feel small tremors that we, with our shoes and our houses and our walkways and our distractions, would never be able to feel.

Probably being shoeless doesn’t make a difference, but why couldn’t familiarity with the earth’s surface and all its trembles and twitches make wild animals notice? I’ll never prove it – it’s merely the Page speculative theory of animal reaction to underground movements – but I don’t find it hard to believe. It wouldn’t even be necessary for every one of the animals to sense underground motion; if some start stampeding, all usually join in.

On the other hand, I’ve no idea what a sixth sense is. A sense of impending doom? What people call intuition?

On the island nation of Sri Lanka, more than 30,000 people died; no one yet knows the precise figure. But at a nearby national park, every one of the wild animals survived the thick, pounding waves.

In China, it’s reported that snakes start emerging from the earth before earthquakes hit. Why shouldn’t they feel the early tremors when they’re hibernating down in the earth? I’d be more surprised if they didn’t. I wonder whether any spelunker has ever been deep in a cave when an earthquake or tsunami hit. Perhaps that person would feel something funny going on, too, even if he wasn’t sure what it was.

A Chinese researcher says tsunamis pound the rocks under the sea floor. Sound travels faster through rock than through water, so animals sensing it have time to race to high ground. People’s pet dogs, however, apparently for the most part don’t get the message. But they don’t live in and on the earth the same way wild creatures do.

This is Ruth Page, who has decided if she’s ever someplace where the animals all run for high ground, she’ll join them.

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