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Sea lion shows surprising rhythmic ability

Last Updated: Sunday, February 16, 2014 - 15:50

Washington: Ronan, a rescued sea lion, has a unique talent that has shed new light on animal cognition.

First example of beat keeping in a non-human mammal challenges theories of the origins of `rhythmic entrainment`.
The California sea lion at Long Marine Laboratory at the University of California, Santa Cruz, became an Internet sensation last year when UCSC scientists published a paper describing her ability to bob her head in time with rhythmic sounds and music in a variety of tempos.

Ronan is the first non-human mammal convincingly shown to be able to keep the beat.

Her range and versatility in matching different beats is impressive, according to Peter Cook, who began working with Ronan as a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz.

Cook noted that Ronan can move in time to a wide range of rhythmic auditory stimuli with different tempos, including music.
"Along with other recent findings, this suggests that the neural mechanisms underpinning flexible beat keeping may be much more widely distributed across the animal kingdom than previously thought," Cook said.

Aside from humans, rhythmic entrainment had previously been seen only in parrots and other birds with a talent for vocal mimicry. This led some researchers to theorize that beat keeping requires a capacity for complex vocal learning.

But sea lions are not known to do vocal mimicry and have limited flexibility in the sounds they make.

The study will be presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Chicago.

First Published: Sunday, February 16, 2014 - 15:50
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