Seal, You Think You Can Dance?

 Gangnam Style?
Harlem Shake?
Now even a Seal can dance!

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

The ability to entrain, which is to consistently keep beat to auditory stimuli was first discovered in 2009 amongst animals with specialization for vocal learning such as Snowball the bob head cockatoo, Cacatua galerita (Patel, Iversen, Bregman & Schulz, 2009) and Alex the African gray parrot, Psittacus erithacus (Schachner, Brady, Pepperberg & Hauser, 2009) who were able to move and peck at a target in tempo respectively.   

Over 6 experiments from July 2011 to November 2012, the first non-vocal mimic animal showed up to challenge the existing vocal and synchronization hypothesis which relates the ability to entrain with neural adaptations allowing auditory-vocal mimicry (Patel, 2006). This is none other than Ronan, the female California sea lion, Zalophus californianus, who made a name for herself because of her ability to bob her head in time to a range of tempos and stimuli (Cook, Rouse, Wilson & Reichmuth, 2013).

Ronan’s training started with hand signals, which were later substituted by non-musical sound signals. The experiments eliminated the possibility of Ronan’s bobbing as response to the previous beat instead of the sound signal using 2 metronomes, where one missed a beat. A variation of sound types and speeds were also used to verify that she was following the rhythm. Her “dance lesson” included John Fogerty’s “Down on the Corner”, Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody” and Earth and Wind’s “Boogie wonderland”. Ronan’s bobbing markedly improved over the course of trials and also endured.  (Click here to see Ronan dancing!)

Though a first, this discovery is not unique to Ronan. Recently, it was discovered that Ai, a female chimpanzee could tap her finger in sync with a beat (Hattori, Matsuzawa, 2013). However, this study provides weaker results as it was possible Ai’s tapping was synchronized to the sound of the keyboard rather than the rhythm heard.

While Ronan and Ai’s behaviours challenged Patel’s hypothesis, it may be possible that Ron and Ai are simply extraordinary individuals among their species or any animal with sufficient training could possibly be rhythmic entrained (Goldman, 2013). Perhaps someday we might find animals from across species, not just those with high cognitive abilities bobbing their heads or tapping their fingers to the beats of our favourite songs.

Why? Because I want it that way~



Cook, P., Rouse, A., Wilson, M., & Reichmuth, C. (2013). California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus) Can Keep the Beat: Motor Entrainment to Rhythmic Auditory Stimuli in a Non Vocal Mimic. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 1-16. Retrieved April 7, 2013, from:

Gordan, J. (2013). Scientific American: “Ronan the Sea Lion Dances to the Backstreet Boys. So What?,” Retrieved from

Hattori, Y., Tomonaga, M., & Matsuzaway, T. (2013). Spontaneous synchronized tapping to an auditory rhythm in a chimpanzee. Scientific Reports, 1-6. Retrieved April 7, 2013, from:

Patel, A., D., Iversen, J., R., Bregman, M., R., & Schulz, I. (2009). Experimental Evidence for Synchronization to a Musical Beat in a Nonhuman Animal, Current Biology, 19(10), 827-830. Retrieved April 7, 2013, from:

Patel, A., D. (2006). Musical Rhythm, Linguistic Rhythm, And Human Evolution, Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 24(1), 99-104. Retrieved from:

Pinned Lab. (2013, Mar 31). Beat Keeping in a California Sea Lion (Ronan). Retrieved April 7, 2013 from:

Reichmuth, C. (2013). Ronan, the sea lion. By American Psychological Association. Science Daily. Retrieved April 1, 2013, from:

Schachner, A., Brady, T., F., Pepperberg, I., M., & Hauser, M., D. (2009). Spontaneous Motor Entrainment to Music in Multiple Vocal Mimicking Species, Current Biology, 19(10), 831-836. Retrieved April 7, 2013, from: