Once Ronan, a 3-year-old sea lion, learned how to dance, keeping the beat to new songs came easy. Though it's hard to tell which is her favorite song. She's got the moves down pat for "Boogie Wonderland" by Earth, Wind and Fire, "Down on the Corner" by John Fogerty and "Everybody" by the Backstreet Boys.
The California sea lion's ability to head-bob to various tempos is changing how biologists think about the cognitive capabilities animals have for rhythm, by showing that keeping the beat isn't just for those with vocal mimicry skills, like birds and humans.
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Marine biologist Peter Cook at the Long Marine Lab at the University of California-Santa Cruz tested Ronan's dance capacity in six experiments. He first taught her to bob her head in time with the motion of his hand, much like a conductor would signal tempo to an orchestra. Only Ronan got a fish treat for perfect scores.
Cook then moved out of her sight and she received treats via a remote-controlled feeder for bobbing her head in time with a metronome-like tone. Then came music and various tempos to the same song as well as new songs.
"Understanding the cognitive capabilities of animals requires carefully controlled, well-designed experiments," said co-author Colleen Reichmuth of the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of California at Santa Cruz in a press release. "This study is particularly rigorous because it examines, step-by-step, the learning conditions that supported the emergence of this complex behavior."
And now it's time to boogie down with Ronan in a video of the sea lion's dance skills here.
IMAGE: Video grab of Ronan the hip-hop seal. (UC Santa Cruz, YouTube)