Loc: SW FL
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Miami, FL, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- As Hurricane approached Florida's west coast with its fearsome winds Aug. 13, eight sharks in Pine Island Sound high-finned it out to open sea before the Category 4 storm arrived.
More than a month later, as Hurricane Jeanne approached Gainesville, butterflies living in an experimental rain forest disappeared under rocks and into the hollows of trees.
Just like the elephants and water buffalo of south Asia in advance of the Dec. 26 tsunami, they knew something was coming, and they knew it wasn't good.
Most scientists deny that there is some sort of sixth sense for danger, insisting that the early warning system some animals seem to have is the result of high development of the five senses that we all have.
The alarms that sound are the vibrations, smells or changes in the barometer.
"It doesn't make any difference if it's a hurricane, a fire or an earthquake," said Frank Mazzotti, a wildlife biologist at the University of Florida.
"They apparently sense these things before humans can do that. Not a lot of work has been done to learn the sensory mechanisms," he told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "It's likely a combination of smell, vibrations and pressure. They start moving away from danger before humans pick it up."
In the case of the sharks, 10 had been tagged and monitored by underwater hydrophones. As the storm approached, eight of them quickly headed for open water.
The two other sharks also disappeared but it was not known where they went, said Michelle Heupel, staff scientist at the laboratory's shark research center.
She and other scientists suspect the sharks detected the drop in air pressure and that served as a warning signal. Fish close to shore run the risk of being pushed aground or battered by the turbulent water.
They said there have been similar incidents elsewhere when sharks headed for open water in advance of a hurricane.
One of them occurred at Terra Ceia Bay as tropical storm Gabrielle approached. Heupel, C.A. Simpfendorfer and R. E. Hueter did a study on the incident. Both Pine Island Sound and Terra Ceia Bay are shallow, which would make marine life more vulnerable to a hurricane's high winds.
Fourteen black-tip sharks less than a year old started leaving the area at 1:30 a.m., and all of them were gone by 5:20 a.m. The storm made landfall about 40 miles south of there at 7 a.m. with near hurricane-force winds.
All the sharks returned within 13 days.
"The black tip sharks' highly directed movement out of the bay, synchronicity of departures and narrow time frame of the phenomenon indicate this change in behavior was a response to an environmental cue associated with the storm," the researchers wrote in the report of their study.
The study also showed they had all left by the time of the heaviest rainfall, which indicated the departure was not the result of the noise of the rain or the decrease of salinity. The wind or the change in tides also did not appear to be a factor.
The tentative conclusion was that a change in the water and air pressure sensed in the shark's inner ear triggered the quick departure.
Fishermen have long noted that feeding activity by game fish increases noticeably before a storm.
Biologists in Gainesville who were studying the butterflies in an enclosed experimental rain forest suspect when the insects took cover in the rocks and trees they had sensed the pressure change with organs in their abdomens.
Those who study birds said somehow they manage to survive hurricanes by finding shelter. The problem is that nobody is eager to go birding when a hurricane is bearing down.
There is also the belief they might change their migration schedules if a hurricane is approaching.
Birders noticed last year that the migratory flocks arrived several weeks late, in October, after the four hurricanes had roared through.
In any event there are seldom any bodies of birds found after hurricanes.
Mazzotti specializes in crocodiles that nest in south Florida. Although the hurricanes skipped the area in 2004, Hurricane Andrew made a direct hit on the area in 1992. Not one dead croc was found, and nesting activity continued at a normal pace, he said.
What is becoming clear is that different kinds of animals sense impending disaster in different ways. Fish and insects may sense a pressure change, and there is a theory that elephants could sense the earthquake that caused the tsunami or the tsunami itself through their feet.
Another theory is that elephants have phenomenal hearing.
And elephants along with certain types of whales can hear frequencies that are much lower than those that can be heard by humans.
There are also skeptics, particularly in relation to the tsunami. They say many of the carcasses could have been washed out to sea, and there is no scientific evidence showing that there were almost no animals killed.
There is also the idea that animals survive more frequently than humans because they are by nature more alert.
2004: Alex, Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne
2005: Dennis, Katrina, Ophelia, Rita, Wilma
Loc: Panama City , FL
Hurricane Season 2017 13/7/1