Instructions: Read the articles and then scroll down to answer the questions that follow.

Before the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami reached Sri Lanka, many animals, like this elephant, moved to high ground and survived.
The man on the left is about to be killed by the tsunami that struck Hilo, Hawaii in 1946.

Hundreds of thousands of people died in the December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. But as described in these news reports, others saw warning signs, and escaped with their lives.

Girl saves tourists after raising tsunami warning

Thousands died on the beaches of Thailand in the December 2004 tsunami. But a 10-year-old British girl saved more than 100 people because she had just studied the killer waves in school. When the sea suddenly began to boil, then pulled away from the resort she was visiting, leaving fish and boats stranded high and dry, Tilly Smith recognized that a tsunami was approaching. Fortunately, her frantic warnings were heeded, and the beach was evacuated just moments before the huge waves crashed ashore.

Kalutara Beach Detail
Imagery collected December 26, 2004. Description: Receding waters and beach damage from tsunami

"Primitive" Tribe Survives Tsunami

Off the coast of India, the remote Andaman Islands are home to the aboriginal Onge (pronounced OHN-ghee) a tribe that follows an ancient hunter-gatherer lifestyle. On December 26, 2004, when the creek that ran through their settlement suddenly went dry and the sea pulled away from the shore, the Onge took immediate action. Believing that evil spirits were at work, the tribe scattered pig and turtle skulls around their settlement and threw stones into the sea, then quickly gathered their possessions and ran inland.

Moments later, a tsunami slammed into the island of Andaman. All 96 Onge survived the tsunami because of their awareness of natural processes. Many other people in the region were less attuned to nature, and paid with their lives. When the seabed was exposed by the approaching tsunami, tourists visiting the coast of Thailand wandered curiously toward the receding ocean, and Indonesian fisherman ran to pick up fish left high and dry, oblivious to the danger.


Now, answer the questions below.

  1. Apparently, some animals are alerted to the approach of a large tsunami in ways that humans can't detect. Speculate about what warning signs animals might pick up that people cannot.
    Check Answer
    Animals tend to pay more attention to their environment than people do, and many have more acute senses, especially of hearing. The animals may actually have heard the earthquake strike - quakes generate very low frequency sound waves, below the range of human hearing but within the ranges of many animals. The earthquake would have caused the ground to vibrate thousands of miles away. These vibrations may have been too subtle for humans to notice as they went about their daily lives, but were picked up by animals.
  2. Describe several warning signs that often precede tsunami.
    Check Answer
    Anyone close enough to the start of a tsunami will feel the earthquake and see or hear the volcanic eruption that starts one. Tsunami can pull water away from the beach as the get close to shore, causing a sudden drop in sea level. Large numbers of animals may run away from the shore or act oddly. Tsunami are actually a series of waves (and the first one isn't usually the biggest), so the arrival of a really big wave may mean there are worse to come.
  3. Why do you think so many people ignore these indicators?
    Check Answer
    The biggest reason is probably ignorance. Tsunami are rare, and many people know little or nothing about them. December 26, 2004 may have been the first time many people had even heard the word. If you had never heard that these killer waves often cause the ocean to pull away from the beach, you might easily be drawn toward such a sight by curiosity. Many people who survived the first wave may have gone to the shore to help others or check on their property, not knowing that a tsunami can be multiple waves spaced many minutes to 1 or 2 hours apart.
  4. If you detect any tsunami warning signs, what should you do?
    Check Answer
    The best response is to move quickly and immediately inland and to high ground. If you don't have time to get away from the shore, you should get to the upper floors of buildings or climb sturdy trees. You should stay away from the shore for several hours after the first wave hits.