A California sea lion has become the first mammal besides humans to demonstrably keep rhythm to music, throwing scientists into a bit of a tizzy.
The flipper-footed creature named Ronan was trained by researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz to bob her head to the beat of music played by scientists. It’s a big deal because scientists thought the ability to synchronize movements to external rhythms was limited to those cognitively enlightened species with the ability to talk — people and parrots.
The 4-year-old female sea lion was able to keep tempo with a variety of fast and slow tunes, from acid rock to pop, but her favorite music appeared to be disco, said Peter Cook, a graduate student in psychology at UC Santa Cruz and the lead author of the study, published April 1 in the Journal of Comparative Psychology.
He said the pinniped really liked to get down when he played Earth Wind & Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland.”
“She is really flawless and really, really on point when we play it,” said Cook, who is working on a doctorate in comparative psychology at the Pinniped Cognition and Sensory Systems Lab, which is part of the university’s Long Marine Laboratory. “We’ve even shifted the tempo on that song and she’s been flawless.”
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