Flora and Fauna | Science

In The Name Of Science, Head-Bobbing Sea Lion Keeps The Beat

NPR | April 2, 2013 1:30 p.m.

Contributed By:

Steve Mullis

Ronan, a 3-year-old female sea lion, has learned to keep a beat, something researchers previously thought was tied to vocal mimicry.

Ronan, a 3-year-old female sea lion, has learned to keep a beat, something researchers previously thought was tied to vocal mimicry.

Screengrab via YouTube

While rhythm can often be hard enough to find among humans, finding it in the animal kingdom has been even more rare.

But thanks to a 3-year-old sea lion named Ronan that knows how to keep the beat, previous notions of rhythmic ability in the animal kingdom are now being challenged.

The research team at the University of California at Santa Cruz’s Pinniped Cognition and Sensory Systems Laboratory says Ronan is the first non-human mammal to show evidence of beat keeping, something previously seen mostly in parrots and cockatoos.

“The fact that we showed Ronan could do it means that there’s a raw capability in sea lions,” lead researcher Peter Cook, a graduate student in psychology at UC-Santa Cruz, told NBC News.

Previously, Cook says, beat-keeping ability was thought to be tied to vocal mimicry, which is why birds can do it. Sea lions, however, are not vocal mimics, so Ronan’s ability to bob his head to the beat of “Boogie Wonderland” and The Backstreet Boys could mean that rhythmic ability in the animal kingdom might be more common.

We’re not quite sure what this means for science, but it sure is cute.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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