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Harbour seal play behaviour was investigated from pupping through mating seasons using videotaping techniques which permitted more refined data acquisition than in our earlier study. Calculation of age class play rates confirmed a large proportion of adult play, but showed that juveniles played only marginally more frequently than adults. Adults increased their playing during the weaning/mating season, whereas that of juveniles and subadults declined over the observation period. Play between mothers and pups increased as weaning drew near, and weaners played at a consistently high rate thereafter. As in our earlier study, solitary play proved to be far more frequent than social play, with adults playing socially only during the mating season, and weaners never doing so. The implication of our earlier report and of the literature, that mothers, pups and weaners play rarely, was proven incorrect. Females played more often than males, and the type of playing displayed by each sex differed.

Summary

The play behaviour of harbour seals was analysed on videotape, which allowed the determination of rates of play per age class relative to the population of seals of the same age, and sex of the player in 190 episodes. The majority of the results of our earlier study were confirmed in that adult play was unusually common, and most play was solitary rather than social. However, the reason for the apparent predominance of juvenile play in our 1986 study was most likely because of a large number of juvenile seals present in the herd at that time. Similarly, mothers, pups and weaners proved to play at high rates when population size was taken into account. Adults' playing increased during the weaning/mating period, whereas juveniles and subadults played progressively less over time. Mothers and pups played more near weaning, after which time the youngsters played at a steady high rate, though never socially. Adult social play was only evident during the mating period. The play of males and females differed qualitatively and quantitatively.