Sea lion bops to the beat of science

Sea lion bops to the beat of science

A dancing sea lion could have a lot to teach us about rhythm and musicality in humans.

Ronan, a Californian sea lion, was trained to bop her head in time to repeating sounds - first a metronome, then pop music.

Previously it was believed that sick beats were something only humans could recognise, but studies show many animals - including birds and chimps - can do the same.

Ronan's no stranger to jamming for science - this study, published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, is further analysis of observations made in 2013.

Co-author Andrew Rouse says a lot of the work done on beat-keeping so far has used an observational approach.

"[It] looks at how close the animal is to each individual beat," he says.

In order to see what's actually going on inside the brain, you need to suddenly change the tempo while playing.

The played Ronan her favourite song - 'Boogie Wonderland' by Earth, Wind and Fire. Her movements and how she adjusted to the changes were compared with a simple mathematical model.

"[We asked], does Ronan's behaviour fit this proposed model? And we found that it does," Mr Rouse says.

While humans are often raised bounced on a parent's knee to the sound of nursery tunes, the way sea lions and other animals learn an association between a beat and a movement is much less understood.

"[The research opens] a new avenue of exploration," Mr Rouse says.

"This coupling between auditory and motor regions, we have kind of beaten into us from day one. Other animals don't."

As humans puzzle over what to make of this research, Ronan gets to just keep grooving to the tunes.