The moment you hear the word “earthquake,” your mind might jump to natural disasters like the major earthquake that rocked San Francisco in 1906, claiming its title as the worst and deadliest earthquake in United States history. Earthquakes occur all over the world at a rate of 20,000 quakes a year—equating to approximately 55 quakes per day—and this rate continues to rise. Often times, when it comes to earthquakes we stay prepared with drills, emergency preparedness routines, and evacuation preparedness protocols. In the United States alone, earth quake damage costs approximately $4.4 billion dollars each year, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Earthquakes have made it more difficult for whales to find food, according to a recent study. A major earthquake in 2016 managed to wipe out entire populations of animals, impacting all levels of the food chain. Earthquakes can unsettle sperm whales’ ability to hunt for food for up to a year. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake off the coast of New Zealand in 2016 resulted in a destructive tsunami that claimed the lives of two individuals and dozens of injuries. Beneath the ocean surface, currents ripped away ecosystems existing along the coast of the underwater canyon. According to a marine biologist from the University of Otago in New Zealand, sperm whales had to dive longer and deeper in search of food due to this tragedy. Numerous scientists in the area identified this earthquake as a phenomenal opportunity to study the impact of natural disasters on sperm whales.
Forty-two whales were studied after the 2016 New Zealand earthquake. After the earthquake, scientists used hydrophones to tap into the sounds made by sperm whales to help locate them. Scientists then headed to locations known to locate sperm whales in order to assess when sperm whales would come to the surface. Sperm whales spent about 25% more time at the ocean’s surface between dives after the quake compared to before it. Scientists believe that these animals stay at the surface longer to take in more oxygen before they head down for deeper dives. About two years after the earthquake, the whales began to return back to normal surface levels, which scientists believe may indicate that the ecosystem has been restored to normal conditions.
These studies are important as they show the effect of natural disasters beneath the surface. Typically, the media only focuses on human impact and the astronomical cost of damages, but it is evident that that is only the tip of the iceberg. We must remember the cost and burden on the ecosystems that are also impacted.
By Indira Purushothaman