Sea Lion Shows Ability to Bob Head in Time With Music [VIDEO]

By Staff Reporter on April 3, 2013 6:18 AM EDT

Sea Lion
Sea lion (representational image) (Photo: Creative Commons)

A sea lion in California has been trained to bob her head synchronizing with rhythmic sounds.

Ronan, the sea lion, has become the first non-human mammal to show an ability to keep the beat. The new discovery challenges the theory about the origins of rhythmic ability.

The talent to keep the beat, called "rhythmic entrainment", has so far been seen in humans and some birds that have the ability for vocal mimicry.

But the new study confronts the hypothesis that beat keeping requires a capacity for complex vocal learning, said Peter Cook, a graduate student in psychology at UC Santa Cruz. The details of the findings have been published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology.

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Cook used Ronan in the study of beat keeping as a result of her capacity to learn quickly. "From my first interactions with her, it was clear that Ronan was a particularly bright sea lion," Cook said in a statement. "Everybody in the animal cognition world, including me, was intrigued by the dancing bird studies, but I remember thinking that no one had attempted a strong effort to show beat keeping in an animal other than a parrot. I figured training a mammal to move in time to music would be hard, but Ronan seemed like an ideal subject."

Cook and his colleague trained Ronan to bob her head in tune with the beat. Following initial training, Ronan was able to maintain time to novel rhythmic tempos and music. "Given her success at keeping the beat with new rhythm tracks and songs following her initial training, it's possible that keeping the beat isn't that hard for her," Cook said. "She just had to learn what it was we wanted her to do."

Cook noticed that Ronan was working much better at staying on the beat than some birds. The researcher is currently working with Margaret Wilson, an associate professor of psychology at UC Santa Cruz, to find out the implications of the sea lion's behavior.

Check below how Ronan bobs her head in tune with the beats. This video was posted by University of Santa Cruz.

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