Ronan, the sea lion, credits to American Psychological Association

Sea Lion challenges notion and boogie to the beat!

Ronan the sealion with Peter Cook, (credits: University of California, Santa Cruz)

You may have seen Sea lions performing in the zoo, but have you seen a sea lion bobbing its head to the music, keeping the beat like a metronome? Ronan, a 3 year old California sea lion, Zalophus californianus, an animal with limited capability of vocal mimicry, has been the first to challenge the hypothesis that only vocal learning species, such as parrots and humans, can move to the beat. ‘She demonstrated her ability to bob to the beat in six experiments led by doctoral candidate Peter Cook at the Long Marine Lab at UCSC.’ , the study said.


According to Schachner, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Harvard University, 14 different species of parrots displayed strong evidence of beat perception and synchronizing their movements to it. However, it is crucial to note that this behavior requires some social motivation and is not a direct result of natural selection, the study said.


Ronan was first taught to bob her head to the musical beat with a hand signal and only rewarded with a fish when she successfully bobs her head to the beat. She was first exposed to an extract of the song, “Down on the Corner, by John Fogerty’s”. The researchers tested her with two pop songs once she had learnt to bob her head to the beat. Ronan displayed her ability to move to the beat even without listening to the song before the trials.


The researchers varied the trials with different types of songs and tempo.  She was able to bob her head rhythmically to five different tempos of ‘Boogie Wonderland’ and kept the bobbing to the beat even when the metronome skipped a beat, the study said. More studies have to be done to find out about the social motivation behind this behavior.

  • “Some vocal-mimicking animals, particularly parrots, can move to a musical beat”, by Amy Lavoie. Harvard Science,  30 April 2009. URL:
  • “By Keeping the Beat, Sea Lion Sheds New Light On Animals’ Movements to Sound”, by Peter Cook, Andrew Rouse, Margaret Wilson, and Colleen Reichmuth. University of California Santa Cruz,  1st April 2013. URL:
  • “Sea lion defies theory and keeps the beat”, by Tim Stephens. University of California, Santa Cruz, 1 April 2013. URL:
  • “Beat keeping in California Sea Lion (Ronan)”, PinnipedLab. University of California, Santa Cruz, 31 March 2013. URL: