When the gods dance...

Monday, April 1, 2013

Head-Bobbing Sea Lion May Keep the Beat Better Than You

A sea lion trained to bob her head in time to music not only appears to have better rhythm than many people, but she is also challenging researchers’ notions about beat-keeping in animals. Previously, the only non-human animals shown to keep a beat were birds with exceptional vocal mimicry skills, such as Snowball, the dancing cockatoo. As a result, scientists had suggested that learning such skills required a talent for vocal mimicry.
The sea lion’s moves suggest that’s not necessarily true, scientists report in the Journal of Comparative Psychology.
A 4-year-old sea lion named Ronan, rescued in 2009 from Highway 1 in San Luis Obispo, eventually found a home in the Pinniped Cognition & Sensory Systems Laboratory at the University of California, Santa Cruz’s Long Marine Laboratory. There, graduate student Peter Cook trained her, beginning with a simple, repeating sound, like a metronome. When Ronan bobbed her head in time with the sound she earned a fish. Eventually she graduated to more complex tunes, and she’s now able to spontaneously bop to tracks she hasn’t heard before.
Since sea lions aren’t known to possess vocal mimicry skills — or at least they’ve never been shown to mimic human vocalizations — Ronan’s demonstrable rhythm-keeping ability was a surprise. “It may be that rhythmic ability is much more widespread in the animal kingdom than previously thought,” Cook says in the video. This means that with a little training, we could soon be wading into a whole new world of jungle boogie.
On Ronan’s playlist: 
“Down on the Corner” (Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1969)
“Everybody” (Backstreet Boys, 1997)
“Boogie Wonderland” (Earth, Wind & Fire, 1979)
Video: PinnipedLab/YouTube

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