Japan Earthquake 2011: Its Effect on Pets and Animals
WARNING: While I have attempted to stay positive and look on the bright side of things whenever possible, there is an inherent sadness to this story that cannot be avoided when the goal is to answer the question of how this horrific event affected our animal friends in Japan. In the end, there is hope, but in getting to that point there is despair. Please keep this in mind before reading if you want to avoid a "downer".
The Widespread Effects on Japan's Animal Life
When Japan was rocked by an earthquake on March 11, 2011, which was rapidly followed by a deadly tsunami, you might wonder just how these twin disasters affected the area's wildlife as well as the pet population. With the human death toll currently just over 13,000 and slightly more than that listed as missing, the cost in human lives is tragically evident. But what about the animals, the birds, and the sea life? How have these creatures, great and small, fared during the disasters and in the tumultuous days after?
Homeless Pets and Orphaned Friends
Because we usually see our pets as part of our family, many pets were certainly with their owners when the earthquake struck Japan. Together many survived the earthquake and tsunami while some unfortunately perished. Some were likely injured, but those that were not alone would certainly be at an advantage as they would have someone who could help them or seek help in more serious cases. From all reports, rescue workers did what they could to save pets so long as it did not take away from efforts to save humans.
But with the quake occurring shortly before 3 P.M. local time, many pets were probably home alone anticipating the return of their masters and mistresses who would shortly leave the workday behind. Sadly, this means many pets likely ended up trapped in the rubble, injured or killed. Even if they realized danger was approaching, these animals would have been basically trapped with no place to run. Many of those that survived were probably lost and confused with some having lost their owners without even knowing it at the time.
Fortunately the people of Japan clearly have great respect for their animal companions and quickly set to work reuniting lost pets with surviving owners as well as identifying those pets who had no one left and attempting to find new homes for them. There will probably never be an official count of how many pets lost their lives or were simply separated from their families, with estimates ranging from as few as a couple thousand to ten thousand or more. It is sad to think that many owners who lost pets may never know if the animal was killed or simply lost in the chaotic aftermath. There will also be many animals who never understand why their masters and mistresses never came home
Overall Effect on Area's Wildflife
Wildlife probably fared better than pets because they were out in the open and seem to have a natural instinct that warns them of approaching danger. Many wild animals likely left the area before the earthquake even occurred and those that stayed were probably quick to move away from danger once the trouble started. This is not to say that by and large wild creatures were not affected as even getting a head start probably could not save them all.
Most likely there was also serious damage to many natural habitats. Everything from bird's nests to the burrows of raccoon dogs were likely destroyed. Normal feeding grounds may have been stripped of natural fauna as well as insects and small animals that some wildlife might need to survive in an area. And the animals that fled the area may not be as quick to return as they were to leave. Especially with a leaking nuclear reactor in the middle of the affected zone.
How the Nuclear Disaster Will Affect Wildlife
There has been no in-depth research regarding how the radioactivity being released at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station will affect fauna and flora in the area,mainly because there have only been a couple of similar incidents. We cannot really look at the Three Mile Island incident as it involved significantly less radioactive material being released into the environment. The best comparison will be Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union, but fortunately there will likely be less damage from Fukushima due to better containment protocols. Also, research at Chernobyl has been limited as the area is still deemed hazardous.
What we do know is the radiation will likely kill a certain amount of flora. At Chernobyl, an entire forest adjacent to the nuclear plant was killed by the radiation and eventually bulldozed and buried. Certainly some fauna will also be lost to the massive doses of radiation to which the immediate area will be exposed. But our experience with Chernobyl would indicate it will not be as severe as we might expect and will not likely be long lasting.
Observers at Chernobyl were seeing birds living in the contaminated reactor chamber by the early 1990s, less than ten years after the meltdown at the site.The evacuated area around has become a diverse wildlife refuge with many species flourishing without the interference of man. There have been some reports of mutation and deformities but these are both less common than would be expected as well as being poorly documented. Overall, though clearly a bad situation for the area's wildlife, things in Japan clearly could be much worse.
Immediate Effects on Sea Life in Destruction's Path
While the earthquake that rocked Japan probably had little effect on the area's marine life, the tsunami that followed would have had a more drastic impact. Schools of fish may have been separated with their feeding grounds disrupted or even destroyed. Coral reefs and other habitats may have been broken apart or damaged. Certainly some sea life was washed ashore or even grounded some distance in land. Some may have been injured as they were tossed around by the churning waters at abnormally high speeds.
But on the plus side, as mentioned before, creatures in the wild seem to have built-in instincts when it comes to natural disasters and have been known to leave areas where danger was imminent long before humans realized anything was wrong. This seems to be supported by fishermen in other areas reporting unusually large hauls of fish in the days before the quake. Even fishermen as far away as Mexico were reporting increases after a few days suggesting sea life may indeed have moved away from the stricken area before the crisis.
Sea Animals Relatively Safe from Radioactive Leak
With the damage done by the earthquake and tsunami at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in northeastern Japan, there has been concern regarding radioactive water effecting the surrounding sea water and the diverse population of sea creatures that live there. Fortunately experts say that due to the dilution of the contaminated water, this will not be an area of great concern. While ocean life very close to the site may be in some danger, animals more than a half mile away are unlikely to be greatly effected.
This is good news not only for animal lovers but also for Japan's fishing industry as any widespread contamination could further cripple that industry already having to deal with the direct effects of the twin natural disasters. Currently it is expected that while there may be a detectable increase in radioactivity in the area's seafood, it will not be enough to pose a health hazard to humans who may consume it.
So What Does the Future Hold?
When all is said and done, things are not as bleak as they might be. Every day pets are being returned to owners, wildlife is inching toward recovery, and experts are searching for ways to minimize the damage and protect the habitat as much as possible. There are a lot of unknown factors that may or may not come into play, not the least of which is exactly how much radiation will be leaked in the long run. For now, I am just happy to hear of pets being reunited with their owners and knowing that eventually, maybe sooner than we think, nature will rebound and recover from this tragedy.
- How To Help Japan's Pets & Animals at GlobalAnimal.com
Helping Japan's lost and injured pets is a profound and direct way to support the nation's people. If you'd like to donate to Japan's pets, here's a list of animal rescue organizations that are on the ground on behalf of animals.