Listening Topic: Life Sciences – Radio interview about animal senses

A. Listen to the radio program. Check the three main ideas that are discussed. (All the ideas are mentioned.)

___ a   Animals can smell, hear and feel things that humans don’t or can’t.

___  Some animals can sense earthquakes before they happen.

___ c   Elephants are not good predictors of earthquakes.

___  Scientists around the world are paying more attention to animal behavior because they believe animals can save lives by making use of their extraordinary senses.

B. Read the questions and answer the ones that you can. Then listen to the conversation again and answer the rest of the questions. Listen again if necessary.

1   What do some pets do before an earthquake? ___________________________

2   What is infrasound and who can pick it up? ___________________________

3   How long ago were animal premonitions of earthquakes documented? ___________________________

4   How do elephants know that there are other elephants miles away? ___________________________

5   What are two ways we make use of dogs’ sense of smell? ___________________________

6   Where do seismologists in China get information about unusual animal behavior? ___________________________



__ a.

__ b.

___ c.

__ d.


 Some animals crouch down or lay on the ground. Some birds make squawking sounds.

 Very low sounds that humans can’t hear. Dogs, some birds, and elephants can hear Infrasound.

 As far back as 400 B.C.

 They probably hear the other elephants.

5   To detect drugs and search for people on rescue missions.

 A zoo reports unusual behavior to the seismologists.


A = Host, B= Mr. Scurlock, C = Carolyn

A:   Welcome back. Last week, I received an interesting question via email from a listener, a pet owner, in San Francisco. I was so intrigued by that email, in fact, that I had to call in our zoologist friend, Frank Scurlock, to help us answer the question from our listener. Frank, how are you?

B:   I’m doing well. It’s good to see you.

A:   Same here. Well, our listener happens to be on the line, phoning in from California, so let’s take her call. Hello, Carolyn, are you there?

C:   Yes, I’m here. Hi.

B:   Hi Carolyn.

A:   Why don’t you tell us why you emailed me last week.

C:   OK, I had a question about something a little weird-some strange behavior-I had noticed with my pets, my cats and my dog.

B:   What’s your question? And what did you observe?

C:   I’ve heard that some animals can sense that an earthquake is coming before it happens. Is there any truth to that?

B:   Ah, yes. Well, we believe there may well be truth to that. But before I explain, what did you observe?

C:   Well we-my husband and I-have all noticed our pets act a certain way. It’s kind of strange. All the animals, three cats and the dog, do the same thing at approximately the same time. They gather together and won’t stand up – they sort of crouch down or lie flat in the center of the room. They’ll stay there for around two minutes.

If my husband and I are in another room, they’ll come into the room where we are. It’s as though they want to stick together or something. I’ve definitely seen them do that just before an earthquake, but we’ve also noticed it other times when we didn’t feel any tremors. Oddly enough, though, we would sometimes hear on the news that next day that there had been a mild quake or some tremors. We would think: It’s as if they new the earthquake was coming!

B:   What you’ve described sounds very normal. Your animals can sense that a quake is on its way. In fact, scientists are beginning to pay more attention to this kind of behavior by animals. And in some places-China for instance-they’re counting on the unusual animal behavior to tip them off in advance that an earthquake is imminent.

C:   How do they know, though?

B:   Well, it’s widely accepted that animals possess a finer sense of smell than we do. That’s why some dogs are used in detective work, to sniff out drugs or bombs, or to find suspects. Many animals also have a heightened sense of hearing. Dogs, some birds and elephants for example, can pick up infrasound-something that’s too low for us to hear. In fact, manufacturers have taken advantage of these different abilities to hear sounds to invent high frequency whistles to call dogs but not disturb humans who can’t hear sounds in that range. Some animals have amazing eyesight. For instance, cats, as you know, can see well in the dark-much better than we can. And that’s not all. Experts claim that there are some other senses that we don’t understand yet. And its mysterious senses like that which alert animals to trembling in the earth.

This really isn’t a new phenomenon. A far back as 400 years B.C., there were records of animal premonitions of earthquakes-squawking birds, for instance, that seemed to predict a coming quake. This seems to be the animals’ way of sounding an alarm to some change they’ve detected. I think animals are more attuned to very subtle differences in their environment. Perhaps they hear or feel very small vibrations in the earth as it shifts-sounds and movement that we don’t register.

A:   Is this an ability that all animals share?

B:   No. Every animal has a different set of abilities and the strength of their senses vary. But we have a lot to learn about all this. We still don’t know what every animal is capable of. For instance, it seems that elephants are not very good at predicting earthquakes-at least we don’t have any proof that they’ve predicted a quake. But it does seem that they can pick up certain types of vibrations in the ground.

C:   Yeah, I saw a TV program on elephants. It said that they’re often aware of other elephants that are miles away. I think it was because they could hear them.

B:   Yes, elephants have unbelievably sensitive hearing. And they can probably hear the sounds made by other elephants, even though they are separated by miles. Their sense of smell is also very, very strong.

But I should mention that some scientists still don’t believe that animals can sense earthquakes.

A:   Well, it seems odd that we would accept dogs’ superior sense of smell to detect things like drugs and to help in search and rescue missions, but then adopt a skeptical attitude towards animals’ ability to sense impending earthquakes. I for one have noticed my pets do some amazing things. In fact, my own dog senses storms when they’re pretty far off-long before I can notice they’re coming.

B:   As I said, there are some people who are making the connections. In China, there’s a zoo that reports unusual animal behavior to seismologists. And I think I heard that there is someplace in the US that encourages places that handle large numbers of animals to alert officials whenever several groups of animals act strange.

A:   Well, Carolyn, thanks for the question. And thank you again to our guest Frank Scurlock.

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