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California sea lion's 'Boogie Wonderland'

Staff writers
April 2, 2013 — A graduate student in psychology at the University of California Santa Cruz has taught a seal lion to move along to musical beats.

Ronan's favourite song is "Boogie Wonderland" by Earth, Wind & Fire
Ronan's favourite song is "Boogie Wonderland" by Earth, Wind & Fire

Somewhere in California, a seal can be found rocking out to Backstreet Boys.

Yes, this is a real thing that a real scientist spent his days evaluating -- for reasons that, from a science perspective, are totally legitimate.

Grad student Peter Cook at the University of California Santa Cruz says the fact that Ronan can hold to the beat is significant because she is the first known non-human mammal who can do so. Before, scientists thought only animals that showed a capacity for complex vocal learning, or vocal mimicry, could do that.

"Human musical ability may in fact have foundations that are shared with animals," Cook said in a release from the university.

"People have assumed that animals lack these abilities. In some cases, people just hadn't looked."

Cook says certain types of birds have been shown to be able to keep a beat, but not as well as Ronan -- whose favourite tune is "Boogie Wonderland" by Earth, Wind & Fire. The sea lion was actually being used in a totally unrelated study when Cook, mindful of bird mimicry, thought to use her apparently above-average intelligence to see if mammals could also be made to groove.

"Everybody in the animal cognition world, including me, was intrigued by the dancing bird studies, but I remembering thinking that no one had attempted a strong effort to show beat keeping in an animal other than a parrot," he said. "I figured training a mammal to move in time to music would be hard, but Ronan seemed like an ideal subject."

Cook and Ronan's findings were published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology on Monday.

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