Moments after the Tuesday afternoon 4.7M earthquake near Hollister, at least seven humpback whales were spotted simultaneously breaching, six of them in pairs, off the Monterey coast. Coincidence?
Kate Cummings with Blue Ocean Whale Watch posted photos of the event to Facebook, and she said she shot the photos at 12:43 p.m., about 90 seconds after the earthquake was recorded in nearby San Benito County, outside Hollister.
"Today was unbelievable! As we were watching one pair of humpback whales, we noticed distant whales in three different areas began breaching," Cummings writes. "Two distant pairs were double breaching and a single whale breached as well. Then suddenly the whales we were watching double-breached!"
Cummings subsequently told SFGate, "I've seen whales suddenly start breaching many times before in the 11 years I have been on the water. Double-breaches are rarer, and its even more rare to see multiple pairs double breaching simultaneously."
"We later found out this all happened at the same time as a 4.8 [sic] earthquake, whose epicenter was only 35 miles away, generated sound underwater in Monterey Bay," Cummings writes. "This obviously could have been a coincidence, but the timing was uncanny! Whales have excellent hearing and their surface activity could have been in response to the earthquake!"
John Ryan, a biological oceanographer with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, tells SFGate that the waves of the earthquake could have been felt or heard by the whales, but more analysis would be needed to understand if whales typically respond to such things. Ryan says more data on the subject is needed.