Behaviour 2019
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Making Play Difficult: Self-Handicapping in Beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) Object Play
Jackson R. Ham1, Malin R. Miller2, Sergio M. Pellis1, Heather M. Manitzas Hill3. 1University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, AB, Canada; 2SeaWorld San Antonio, San Antonio, TX, United States; 3St. Mary's University, San Antonio, TX, United States

Object play, a behaviour in which animals manipulate inanimate objects, has been observed in animals from various taxa. However, object play is not nearly as well studied as social play or even locomotor-rotational play. While studying object play in beluga whales, we noticed something peculiar; the belugas self-handicap themselves. For example, a beluga may push a buoy ball onto a ledge, so that it can only be reached by beaching itself. Self-handicapping has been described in locomotor play and, most notably, in social play, but rarely in object play. Here, we provide a detailed analysis of how and when belugas self-handicap themselves while playing with objects. Understanding self-handicapping in play can provide clues as to why animals play, as self-handicapping has been suggested to help animals learn how to cope with unexpected circumstances. Such an association has been most clearly demonstrated for social play. Extending self-handicapping beyond the social domain would lay the foundation for comparative studies to determine if species limiting their play to non-social forms, including that directed at objects, can be coopted to facilitate the development of resiliency.