Boogie-woogie sea lion goes viral

America goes wild for beat-happy pinniped

So far, more than a million people have watched the video featuring graduate student Peter Cook and Ronan, a California sea lion trained to bob her head in time with a rhythm. (Photo by C. Reichmuth)

The American people are going ga-ga for Ronan the beat-keeping sea lion, who has been featured on "Weekend Edition Saturday" on National Public Radio, and as the answer to a question on the NPR news quiz show "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me."

To date, the YouTube video of the artfully head-bopping sea lion has garnered more than 1 million hits.

The original story—which appeared first on UCSC's news site—conveys the scientific impact of the discovery while being endearing and funny in an off-beat way. But more importantly, the coverage—which also included an NBC news story, a feature in the CNN Situation Room, a story in the Los Angeles Times, a San Francisco Chronicle feature, and international press coverage—is drawing attention to the adventurous spirit and research prowess of the campus as well as its strong interdisciplinary focus, considering the beat-keeping demonstration took place at UCSC's Long Marine Laboratory but was undertaken by a graduate student in psychology named Peter Cook.

This demonstration appears to be breaking new ground. Ronan the sea lion is the first non-human mammal that has demonstrated a very strong ability to keep the beat. 

Here are some of the more eye-opening and amusing media moments:

-- When NPR's Scott Simon asked Peter Cook if Ronan had a favorite song, Cook replied: "'Boogie Wonderland' by Earth, Wind & Fire is far and away her favorite. Yeah. The Backstreet Boys, she was good and she was willing to participate, but I didn't feel like she had the same spark as when we gave her the disco."

-- After introducing the sea lion story, CNN's Jeanne Moos wryly observed: "Now you probably think any idiot can keep a beat but sometimes it is hard even for humans. Ask Karl Rove or Rodney Dangerfield." (While Moos mentioned these two celebrities, the screen displayed footage illustrating their hapless dancing moves.)

-- But clearly, most media also picked up on the scientific value. Consider this observation from Alan Boyle, science editor, NBC News: "Previously, scientists had assumed that the ability to move in time with a beat was connected to the ability for vocal learning and vocal mimicry. That's something that humans, cockatoos, parrots, and budgies can do. But sea lions aren't mimics. When was the last time you heard a sea lion say, "Polly wants a snapper"?