California Sea Lion Dances to the Beat by Bobbing her Head to Music (Video)

First Posted: Apr 01, 2013 03:43 PM EDT

Cockatoos, budgies and other birds can dance, but what about sea lions? A new study reveals that Ronan, a California sea lion, has the ability to bob her head in time with music. The recent finding suggests that animals who are not capable of vocal mimicry can still keep the beat--a challenge to current scientific theories about what allows animals to synchronize their movements to sound.

Previous research seemed to suggest that only animals that could mimic human voice could keep time to music. These animals include birds such as cockatoos, parrots and budgerigars. Yet this latest study, published in APA's Journal of Comparative Psychology, seems to prove otherwise.

Ronan demonstrated her ability to bob her head to a beat in six different experiments. She was first trained to bob her head to John Fogerty's "Down the Corner." Then, researchers tested her with other songs that had different beats. It turned out that despite the difference in tempo, the sea lion could bob her head to the beat without having been exposed to the songs before.

"Dancing is universal among humans, and until recently, it was thought to be unique to humans as well," said Peter Cook, one of the researchers, in a press release. "When some species of birds were found to have a similar capability for rhythmic movement, it was linked to their ability to mimic sound. Now we're seeing that even mammals with limited vocal ability can move in time with a beat over a broad range of sounds and tempos."

In fact, Ronan's skills only improved over the course of the trials. After a follow-up test a few weeks after the final session, the researchers found that the sea lion was successful at keeping the beat with each of the sounds previously used. She was able to maintain a minimum of 60 consecutive bobs to each of the different beats.

The study seems to suggest that rhythm is not unique to humans. Instead, mammals and other animals can learn to keep a beat.

Want to see Ronan in action? Check her out in the video below, originally appearing here.

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