Ronan is the first animal not capable of vocal mimicry who can keep a beat.
Ronan, a California sea lion, has proved herself to be pretty talented at following a beat, challenging current theories as to an animal’s ability to synchronize itself with sound. Ronan, who is 3 years old, proved her ability to bob to the beat in a series of experiments at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Peter Cook, the leader of the study, explained, saying that “dancing is universal among humans, and until recently, it was thought to be unique to humans as well.” However, some birds capable of mimicking humans have been observed to recognize and bob to sound. “When some species of birds were found to have a similar capability for rhythmic movement, it was linked to their ability to mimic sound. Now we’re seeing that even mammals with limited vocal ability can move in time with a beat over a broad range of sounds and tempos,” said Cook.
Ronan learned to dance first with a simple beat – John Fogerty’s “Down on the Corner.” Ronan proved that she could bob her head to music with a little training. When introduced to new music, however, Ronan bopped right along – she didn’t need to be re-trained for a new tempo. That includes the five tempos of “Boogie Wonderland” by Earth, Wind, and Fire. Over the course of the trials, Ronan’s skills improved markedly, and she became able to keep up with various types and speeds of sounds. By the end of the trial, Ronan was even able to keep the beat with a computer generated metronome designed to skip beats. When she was tested a few weeks after the study, it was found that her skills hadn’t atrophied – she had truly learned how to groove.
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