Whales breach wildly in Monterey Bay after magnitude-4.7 earthquake strikes
Photo: Kate Cummings, Blue Ocean Whale Watch
Was it a coincidence or a reaction to the Earth’s shaking?
Seven whales began wildly breaching in Monterey Bay on Tuesday, right after a magnitude-4.7 earthquake was recorded some 35 miles away.
Kate Cummings, the owner of Blue Ocean Whale Watch in Moss Landing, was on a boat at the time, and while she didn’t feel the quake, she was wowed by the whales, three pairs and a single.
“They were breaching repeatedly … like crazy … and pec-slapped [pectoral slapped] and tail-lobbed for about 10 minutes,” Cummings said. “I’ve seen whales suddenly start breaching many times before in the 11 years I have been on the water. Double-breaches are rarer, and its even more rare to see multiple pairs double breaching simultaneously.”
Cummings knows the whales’ activity occurred right after the quake because of the time stamp on her photos. “My double-breach shots were taken at 12:43:34, and the earthquake was recorded at 12:42. Whales in the distance were breaching as well and you can see one of the distant splashes.” (See Cummings photos in the gallery above.)
The naturalist is convinced the whales “heard” the earthquake.
“I know earthquakes can generate sound underwater because a couple diver friends of mine have been underwater at the time of earthquakes, so we all figured it was the sound that could have caused the whales to get so active suddenly,” she says.
ALSO: Magnitude-3.4 earthquake strikes near Hollister, occurring in same area of 4.7 quake
John Ryan, a biological oceanographer with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, thinks it’s possible the whales were reacting to the sound that moved through the water with the quake, but he says more analysis on whale behavior in response to tremors is needed to prove it.
Ryan manages the institute’s hydrophone program that has recorded sound in the bay for the past four years and his equipment captured a “loud and clear” recording of the magnitude-4.7 earthquake at 3,000 feet underwater. He says you can “barely hear” the sound of a smaller 3.4 aftershock.
“Could a whale sense that? It’s probable. It’s a loud sound and it’s within the frequency range they use for communication,” he says. “How do we know how they might respond to that behaviorally? The short story is we need data.”
Amy Graff is a digital editor for SFGATE. Email her at email@example.com.