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Music to their ears: 3 animals that can groove to the beat © Getty Images

Meet the animals that can groove to the beat

Published: 05th April, 2020 at 11:50
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Find out what we can learn from how they react to music.

A wild grey seal off the coast of the Farne Islands recently made history as the first wild seal to be caught on camera clapping its fins together.


Previously, this behaviour had only been seen in zoos and aquariums, but the video, captured by Dr Ben Burville, proves that wild seals really could clap to the beat.

Here are three more studies showing that humans aren’t the only ones who appreciate a song and dance.


Girl's got rhythm

Seals aren’t the only aquatic mammals with rhythm. Back in 2013, researchers at the University of California played a constant click track to a sea lion named Ronan, rewarding her with fish every time she nodded along in time.

They then upped the ante by playing her Earth, Wind and Fire’s funk-soul floor-filler Boogie Wonderland and varying the tempo at random intervals. Not only was Ronan able to keep the beat better than any other non-human animal ever tested, she was also able to quickly adapt to the new tempos.

Check her skills out here:


It takes a cockatoo to tango

When it comes to animals that can really bust a groove, Snowball the cockatoo takes some beating.

The bird first gained internet fame in 2007 when he was filmed dancing to the Backstreet Boys’ Everybody (Backstreet’s Back), but it was in 2019 when his skills were really put to the test. A team of researchers, led by psychologist Dr R. Joanne Jao Keehn at San Diego State University, found that he has an impressive range of 14 different dance moves, plus two further composite moves.

While dancing to 80s classics Another One Bites the Dust and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, the sulphur-crested cockatoo bounced, lifted his foot, posed with his crest raised, did some headbanging even Ozzy Osbourne would be proud of and even showed off a bit of voguing.

Here he is in full flow:


Singing for your (fish) supper

In summer 2019, researchers at the University of St Andrews taught a group of three juvenile grey seals to copy human speech sounds and produce simple melodies.

All three seals were able to mimic some of the human sounds but one female named Zola proved to be the Beyonce of the group. She was able to sing recognisable versions of several songs including Twinkle, twinkle and the Star Wars theme tune.

“Copies were not perfect,” said lead researcher Dr Amanda Stansbury. “But given that these are not typical seal sounds it is pretty impressive. Our study really demonstrates how flexible seal vocalisations are.”

Hear Zola’s dulcet tones here:

Read more about musical animals:



Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Science Focus Podcast.


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