Learning to Play: A Review and Theoretical Investigation of the Developmental Mechanisms and Functions of Cetacean Play

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Play is a behavioral phenomenon most commonly observed in the young of both solitary and social species. Documentation of play in cetaceans varies across species and settings. Cetacean play behavioral repertoires include a broad range of actions, such as the manipulation of diverse objects, blowing bubbles, chasing conspecifics, and swimming in spirals through the water. As is common in research on animal play, cetacean play has been grouped into categories by its form, including locomotor play, object play, and different variations of social play, such as affiliative games, play fighting, and socio-sexual play. Research has primarily focused on recording the topography of cetacean play and the demographics of the individuals engaging in play. However, these classifications are insufficient to address the possible developmental and societal functions of cetacean play behaviors, or the mechanisms with which play behaviors are spread between conspecifics and acquired by young members of cetacean populations. This article applies several developmental and social learning theories in order to organize current knowledge and guide future research.

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