Seals look like human babies

(ORDO NEWS) — The sense of rhythm plays a huge role in human music and speech, and now scientists have discovered that it is also important for those mammals that, in principle, use voice to communicate.

Moreover, if our closest relatives – primates – have to be taught to respond to the rhythm, then seals feel it even without prior training.

Songbirds have a superbly developed sense of rhythm: it contributes to better learning and allows the chick, even while sitting in an egg, to memorize the characteristic song of its parents up to the local “dialect” (a special kind of song characteristic of a particular population).

In humans, this feeling, it seems, is also innate. But our closest relatives, the apes, have to learn this, and, like humans, their rhythmic abilities vary markedly between individuals.

So, are humans the only “musical” mammals on Earth? To test this, a team of Dutch scientists decided to test the rhythmic abilities of harbor seals ( Phoca vitulina ) kept in a rehabilitation center before being released into the wild.

To begin with, the scientists recorded the seals’ voices, which differ in three rhythmic properties: tempo (fast or slow, like the beats per minute in music), length (short or long, like the duration of musical notes), and regularity (correct or incorrect, like the sounds of a metronome in comparison with a free jazz rhythm ).

After that, using a method previously tested on human babies, the team tested the rhythmic abilities of 20 young seals. During the experiment, different sound sequences were played behind the animal, and the researchers recorded how many times it turned its head (in other words, found the sound interesting and preferred).

It turned out, like human children, young seals pay more attention to rhythmically correct, long and fast sequences. It is surprising that with such “musical” inclinations, common seals are one of the most silent and reserved pinnipeds, whose communication with relatives is limited to the breeding season.

Seals look like human babies 2
The common seal spends most of its life alone, so it does not need to communicate with someone

In other words, the abilities of this species are most likely not a unique evolutionary trait, but a common one inherited from terrestrial ancestors. If this is indeed the case, does this not mean that rhythmic abilities are as widespread among mammals as they are among birds?

Now researchers have to work with other species to finally answer the question of the prevalence and significance of the sense of rhythm in various evolutionary lines of our class


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