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Beat-keeping sea lion shows surprising rhythmic ability
Date:2/15/2014

ghway 1 in San Luis Obispo County. It was her third stranding incident, and she didn't seem to be making it in the wild. She came to Long Marine Lab in January 2010 and joined the Pinniped Cognition and Sensory Systems Laboratory directed by one of Cook's advisers at UCSC, animal behaviorist Colleen Reichmuth.

The idea to use Ronan in a study of beat keeping was spurred partly by her facility for rapid learning. "From my first interactions with her, it was clear that Ronan was a particularly bright sea lion," Cook said. "Everybody in the animal cognition world, including me, was intrigued by the dancing bird studies, but I remember thinking that no one had attempted a strong effort to show beat keeping in an animal other than a parrot. I figured training a mammal to move in time to music would be hard, but Ronan seemed like an ideal subject."

Cook and research technician Andrew Rouse trained Ronan to bob her head in time with rhythmic sounds, then showed that she could transfer this skill to tempos and music she hadn't heard before. "Given her success at keeping the beat with new rhythm tracks and songs following her initial training, it's possible that keeping the beat isn't that hard for her," Cook said. "She just had to learn what it was we wanted her to do."

Scientists once thought that the underpinnings of musical ability were unique to humans. But human musical ability may in fact have foundations that are shared with animals, according to Cook. "People have assumed that animals lack these abilities. In some cases, people just hadn't looked," he said. "The comparative study of rhythm has undergone a renaissance in recent years, with new methods being attempted and new species tested. It's exciting to be meeting with top scientists in the field at this crucial juncture."


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Contact: Tim Stephens
stephens@ucsc.edu
831-459-2495
University of California - Santa Cruz
Source:Eurekalert

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