Seismic Research


                            Go to Riverbanks Zoo                                   Go to Cincinnati Zoo


  In 2004 FCRI became a co-recipient of a NSF grant.

FCRI's participation included research into the ability of animals (besides elephants and moles) to be able to detect  and/or communicate  seismically (through the ground). Additionally and most importantly animals are first responders to natural disasters. There were no animals killed, (except for those in cages) during the December 26th 2004 earthquake and tsunami. We are attempting to find out why, and perhaps develop an invention based on this that can help humanity. Please also see this page about other research and storm detection.


It took over a year  of gathering the hardware necessary for the research and developing new software for  use with seismic animal communication. There was plenty of seismic software out there, but it was designed for use in the fields of geology  (earthquakes) and for drilling and other engineering fields of research. There was no software out there that could be adequately used for the study of animal communication. So we made some with the help of Katya Price of Prince consulting.

Since the software we designed for atmospheric and underwater bio-acoustics we named Polynesia (after Dr. Dolittle's parrot who taught the good Dr. all the animal languages)  we decided to name the seismic software "Seismic Too-Too." Too-Too was  Dr. Dolittle's owl, and in the book is the following quote:

"I hear the noise of some one putting his hand in his pocket," said the owl.

"But that makes hardly any sound at all," said the Doctor. "You couldn't hear that out here."

"Pardon me, but I can," said Too-Too. "I tell you there is some one on the other side of that door putting his hand in his pocket. Almost everything makes SOME noise--if your ears are only sharp enough to catch it. Bats can hear a mole walking in his tunnel under the earth --and they think they're good hearers. But we owls can tell you, using only one ear, the color of a kitten from the way it winks in the dark."

Seeing that we were embarking on a journey in which we would need very acute "hearing" we thought the name would be appropriate. To read more about Seismic Too-Too please go to our equipment page



4, 3 component geophones housed in waterproofed and ruggedized housings

1 ES-3000 Geometrics seismograph

100 lbs of cable

Ground Saw

Seismic Too-Too


Cincinnati Zoo Research



Initial Testing

In the end of may of 2005, we went to the Cincinnati Zoo where we have worked before and where some of the best people in the world work, both the animal keepers and the curating staff. We were there to test the Sumatran rhinos, the tiger, and the Okapi.

The people that attended were:

All the marvelous staff of the Cincy zoo, Ed, Paul, Randy, Greg, Mike, Pat Callahan, Mike and Mike, and Alexis!










Michael Johnson, Marquette University







E.von Muggenthaler, FCRI and Michael Renaud, FCRI

(Liz's birthday happened to fall during the research)







Ernie Hauser and grad students and the weight drop, Wright State University











and of course the stars of the research...the animals!


                                                             Day 1

We rented a ground saw and set the geophones and the cable in the rhino exhibit, buried far underground so that the rhinos would not be in any way endangered (in fact there was no way anyone could tell they were there at all. (The geophones and cables were already in the ground in the photo to the left,  Emi the mother rhino actually has her front feet directly over the cable.)

The computers and seismograph (and us) were out of sight outside the exhibit.

Joining us in the research was Ernie Hauser a seismologist from Wright State University, who with his graduate students brought  trailer mounted Elastic Wave Generator (elastic band assisted weight drop)

Emi and baby Suci, Sumatran rhinos

Day 2

On Day two Ernie did several drops with the rhinos, and with the tiger. The Sumatran rhinos reacted to the drops, generating whistle-blows. The tiger raised his head off of the berm and looked around, but did not appear to be much fazed.

Day 3

We tested again the Okapi, (on the opposite end of the zoo from the rhinos) however there was a great deal of construction going on across the street, and a new barn had just been build for the elephants, giraffe, and okapi.  Ernie's elastic wave generator (weight drop) probably sounded just like the pile drivers. None of us were surprised when there was absolutely no response.










Riverbanks Zoo Research

In November we (Fred, Pat and Liz) visited the beautiful Riverbanks zoo. Thanks to John Davis, Sue, and everyone in Elephants and Big Cats, we had a pretty successful experiment! We came this time with recordings of the earthquake that struck near Sumatra on December 26th 2004. We also had a recording of the tsunami that was generated from this event. Both these recordings came from the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty's hydroacoustic array. While this is not  perfect protocol, it was as close as we could get.


Day 1

We buried the geophones in an array in the northern end of the elephant enclosure. The ground was simply too hard for the ground saw (which wasn't working properly anyway) to cut through. The geophone cables ran up the sides of the moat, hidden behind steel girders. All the rest of our equipment was in the public area. The speaker, which goes down to 10 Hz (see our playback page) was hidden in some bushes about 40 feet from the computer and seismograph. We played back four infrasonic (below our hearing range) signals to the elephants;

1. White noise- white noise is like what you hear when your television goes off the air. It is essentially a "meaningless" signal.

2. The sound of the earthquake

3. White noise again

4. The sound of the tsunami

Both times the white noise was played the elephants paid absolutely no attention at all. There were no behavioral changes. However when we played back the earthquake sound they headed immediately away from the berm in front of us and went straight to the entrance of their barn. They paused there and "froze" which is an elephant behavior that occurs when they are trying to listen or pay attention to something they are feeling (seismic elephant communication) or hearing. Their trunks were on the ground (sensing) until the playback signal of the earthquake ended.

When we played back the signal of the tsunami, we really thought we had hit the jackpot. The elephants took off running! Unfortunately (but fortunately for Pat) this had nothing to do with the playback. Sue, the dear assistant curator had noticed that one of the elephants had gotten too close to Pat, who although on the berm 15 ft away on the outside of the elephant enclosure was probably too close. The elephant had started playing with our microphone stand (an elephants trunk is very long and flexible) and had noticed his foot. Although Pat was not in immediate danger, Sue thought it would be prudent to call the elephants over to the barn. Thank you Sue!


Day 2

                                                                 Tiger cubs..naptime!                                                                                                                                        Fred, Pat and Chris

We spent a good deal of time trying to figure out how to get the geophones into the tiger enclosure. We finally decided on dropping the sensor down from the roof, wrapping the cable around a strand of bamboo, and hiding it at the roots of the shoot, where we thought the male 2 year old tiger could not find it. We set up all our seismic equipment in back of the barn, and the playback equipment and air mics in front of the enclosure. About a minute into the experiment, we hadn't even begun playback, Pat started shouting over the radio "Get him out, get him out now!" The tiger had gone almost immediately over to the sensor and had grabbed the cable in his mouth. Keeper Chris got the big guy back into the barn. Thus ended said experiment. We tried again to figure out where to place the sensors, and when we go back in spring, we will be running the sensor inside a fake bamboo shoot!


Link to Virginia East Coast Quake  PDF 08/23/2011






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