MONTEREY COUNTY (KPIX 5) — A whale-watching tour out of Moss Landing captured some amazing photographs of unusual behavior by a pod of humpback whales in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s 4.7 earthquake centered in Southern Monterey County.
“They started flying out of the water. And then two whales outside of us to the West started breaching. And then a boat behind us said, ‘Our whale is breaching over here too,” said marine biologist Katyln Taylor who was guiding the boat tour.
Taylor says a total of seven whales within a mile radius of their boat breached at virtually the same time. The time stamp from the photos was 12:43pm Tuesday — roughly 60 seconds after the earthquake was recorded by USGS sensors.
“From the time the earthquake registered on land to the time it was recorded on the hydrophone, the whales were breaching in between that time period. And that matches up with the time stamps on our cameras,” Taylor said.
The force of an earthquake can produce a sound, detectable underwater, as the shockwaves expanded outward through the Ocean’s depths. In fact, researchers with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute say they recorded earthquake on an underwater listening device known as a hydrophone.
“Could the whales hear or sense the energy of that earthquake in the ocean? I think the answer here is yes,” said MBARI researcher John Ryan.
Researchers say the sound produced by a quake is within the frequency range used by whales for communication. But whether or not the whales breaching was directly connected to quake is a matter that requires more study.
“It makes like a roaring sound underwater. And it’s a really loud disturbance. And it was about 30 seconds long on the hydrophone. It’s this very deep and unusual noise and I think that the whales just started jumping out of the water as a reaction to it,” Taylor said.