To establish reference values for free-ranging polar bears (Ursus maritimus) at Svalbard, Norway, plasma samples from 15 females and 20 males were analyzed for 28 blood biochemistry parameters. Animals were chemically immobilized (Zoletil®: tiletamine and zolazepam) on land at Barentsøya, Edgeøya, and the eastern coast of Spitsbergen in August 1998. All bears were apparently healthy, with ages ranging from 1–22 yr. Females had almost two times higher levels of lipase than males. Several parameters varied with age. Levels of alkaline phosphatase (ALP) and calcium (Ca) decreased with age, being significantly higher in young individuals (<6 yr) compared to middle-aged (6–13 yr) and older bears (>13 yr). Globulin was lower in animals <6 yr of age than in animals >13 yr of age, while the opposite was the case for albumin. Levels of ALP, Ca, and potassium decreased with age. We found no significant changes in total protein correlated to age, but total protein levels were higher in obese compared to lean individuals. Further, total protein levels were slightly lower and had greater variation compared to data from polar bears in captivity, which may reflect food availability for the latter group. The mean ratio between urea and creatinine was 10.9 and indicated these bears were fasting. These data provide a baseline from which to compare biochemical parameters in captive and free-ranging polar bears and will be especially valuable for future studies of polar bears at Svalbard.
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Vol. 38 • No. 3