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The Discovery Files - Tsunami Warning

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Animals' built-in warning system gave them advance notice of coming tsunami

Credit: NSF/Clear Channel Communications/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:
They knew about the tsunami an hour before it hit.

I'm Bob Karson with "The Discovery Files" --new advances in science and engineering, from the National Science Foundation.

Animals possess an early warning system that told them of the coming tsunami--because they can hear infrasound, or sound out of the range of human hearing. Elizabeth von Muggenthaler, a researcher who studies sounds created by nature:

Von Muggenthaler:
The elephants would have perceived the earthquake seismically almost before it happened. The waves push air like a giant loudspeaker. We can't hear it, but the elephants certainly could. So they knew way, way before we did.

Announcer: Her work has shown that animals use infrasound for navigation, communication, migration, and sensing danger.

Von Muggenthaler: The elephants broke their chains and started heading for higher ground. Some of them stopped and picked up humans and threw them on their backs.

Announcer: If we could talk to the animals ...

Von Muggenthaler:
... what a wonderful--and safer--place this world would be.

Announcer: "The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research, brought to you by you! Learn more at

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