Earthquake-Monitoring Tech May Help Save Elephants


Technology developed to study earthquakes could help conservationists monitor elephant populations from afar. (Pacific Standard)

Learn more about how elephants communicate with our great video resource. (Cue up to about 1:36.)

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

Elephants in remote areas of preserves in Africa can be difficult to monitor remotely.
Photograph by Michael Nichols, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

  • The Pacific Standard article identifies two ways elephants communicate using vocalization: sound and infrasound. What is sound? What is infrasound?
    • Sound describes a vibration that travels as pressure (sound waves) in a medium such as air, water, or earth.
      • Sound is measured in units called hertz (Hz). Hertz measure the frequency of sound waves.
        • High-frequency sounds correspond to higher pitches. Smaller animals are associated with high-frequency sounds—the trill of a bird call, the squeak of a mouse.
        • Low-frequency sounds correspond to lower pitches. Big animals are associated with low-frequency sounds—the song of a whale, the growl of a warthog.
        • Humans can typically hear sounds between 20 and 20,000 hertz.
    • Infrasound describes sound waves traveling in frequencies below about 20 hertz, too low-frequency for most people to hear. In addition to elephants, animals such as whales and hippopotamuses can use infrasound to communicate.
    • FYI: Ultrasound describes sound waves traveling in frequencies above 20,000 hertz, too high-frequency for most people to hear. Animals such as bats and dolphins use ultrasound to echolocate.


  • Researchers who conducted the latest study used geophones to study elephant sounds. What are geophones?
    • Geophones are devices used to measure seismic waves—vibrations within and along Earth’s surface.
    • Geophones are one of many instruments used to monitor earthquake activity.



Seismic waves can be used to classify elephant behavior.
Illustration courtesy Beth Mortimer, William Lake Rees, Paula Koelemeijer, Tarje Nissen-Meyer. “Classifying elephant behaviour through seismic vibrations.” Current Biology v. 28 n. 9.
  • How might geophones be used to protect elephants?



Pacific Standard: Could Earthquake-Monitoring Technology Help Save Elephants?

Nat Geo: A Natural History of the African Elephant

(extra credit!) Current Biology: Classifying elephant behaviour through seismic vibrations

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