A Sea Lion that Dances to the Backstreet Boys

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By Chris Gayomali

Some birds—like this inexplicable, Lady Gaga-loving Cockatoo—have shown that animals can indeed follow a beat. They can bob their heads and "dance." But outside of a few mimetic parrots, few creatures (including me) have demonstrated any skill whatsoever moving in an aesthetically pleasing manner to a basic 4/4 rhythm. At least until now.

Meet Ronan the sea lion. Psychologists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, say she's the first non-human mammal to show an affinity for—dramatic pause—the art of dance. (Watch below.)

"From my first interactions with her, it was clear that Ronan was a particularly bright sea lion," lead researcher Peter Cook, a psychology grad student at UC Santa Cruz, tells NBC News. "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." He adds: "I figured training a mammal to move in time to music would be hard, but Ronan seemed like an ideal subject."

For several months, Cook and his team spent their weekends working with Ronan to move her head in time to the music. (An arduous task that involved plenty of snacks and head-bobbing demonstrations, which you'll enjoy picturing in your head.) Over time, the talented sea lion learned to perfectly keep time to Earth Wind & Fire's "Boogie Wonderland" (Ronan's fave) and an indiscriminate Backstreet Boys song that isn't "I Want it That Way."

"The fact that we showed Ronan could do it means there's a raw capability in sea lions," says Cook. He hopes her online stardom will reveal other adorable animals who have the similar cognitive ability to maintain a funky beat. You know. For science.

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April 10, 2013 - 2:00pm
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