Brace yourselves everyone: The World’s First Sea Lion with Rhythm

A California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) has shaken up science by bobbing its head in time with music and it is the first mammal that is not capable of vocal mimicry, other than humans, that can keep a beat, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Journal of Comparative Psychology.

Ronan, the 3-year-old sea lion proved her ability to bob to the beat in six experiments. She learned to move in time to a hand signal, which was replaced by a simple non-musical sound signal. They also fed her fish only when she bobbed her head at the exact tempo of the music.

She succeeded in bobbing to the beat of 2 two pop songs, “Everybody” by the Backstreet Boys, and “Boogie Wonderland” by Earth, Wind and Fire without prior exposure to the songs over the course of several trials. What is even for more surprising was that she could keep a rhythm to five different tempos of “Boogie Wonderland”.

Peter Cook, the lead author of the study and a Psychology graduate student at UC Santa Cruz, speculated that she particularly likes “Boogie Wonderland” because she was a little more alert and she was more precised in her movement when they played that song.

According to the research, dancing was thought to be unique to humans. Sea lions have very little vocal flexibility despite decades of captive study. Thus, it is a surprise that Ronan can move in time with a beat over a variety of sounds and tempos.

Cook said that now she keeps perfect time between 60 and 140 beats per minute and is better than birds, which are ability to mimic vocal sounds, at staying in rhythm.

Click the link below to watch the video of Ronan.

Beat Keeping in a California Sea Lion (Ronan)


American Psychological Association (APA) (2013, April 1). By keeping the beat, sea lion sheds new light on animals’ movements to sound. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 9, 2013, from­ /releases/2013/04/130401143149.htm

Cook, P., Rouse, A., Wilson, M. & Reichmuth, C., 2013. A California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus) Can Keep the Beat: Motor Entrainment to Rhythmic Auditory Stimuli in a Non Vocal Mimic.  Journal of Comparative Psychology. doi: 10.1037/a0032345

Pinnipedlab. (2013, March 31). Beat Keeping in a California Sea Lion (Ronan). [Video File]. Retrieved from