To watch Ronan keep the beat, go to www.
Boogying sea lion suggests new avenues for rhythm research
Humans, it turns out, aren’t the only mammals with rhythm.
Researchers have trained a sea lion named Ronan to bop her
head to music, according to a study published in April in the
Journal of Comparative Psychology.
The study spawned a You Tube video that’s gone viral —
more than a million people have watched Ronan keep time to
But behind the adorableness is a serious scientific question.
University of California–Santa Cruz graduate student Peter
Cook and his colleagues wanted to know whether rhythm is
unique to humans among mammals.
Researchers used to think that only humans could recognize
a beat. But over the past several years, they have found that
some speech-mimicking birds, such as parrots and cockatoos,
can also do it. That led some researchers to theorize that the
neural circuitry involved in speech — particularly enhanced
feedback between motor and premotor areas — might also be
related to rhythm.
“I thought, someone really needs to test this by seeing if a
vocally inflexible animal could also beat match,” says Cook.
Ronan was just the right subject to try it.