Accurate information on animal body mass is often an essential component of wildlife research and management. However, for many large-bodied species, obtaining direct scale weights from individuals may be difficult. In these cases, morphometric equations (e.g., based on girth or length) may provide accurate and precise estimates of body mass. We developed predictive equations to estimate the body mass of free-ranging polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in western Hudson Bay, Canada. Using multiple linear and non-linear regression, we identified a strong relationship between polar bear body weight and linear measures of straight line length and axillary girth. The mass—morphometry relationship appeared to change over time and we developed separate equations for polar bears measured during 2 time periods, 1980–1996 and 2007–2009. Non-linear models were more accurate and provided body mass estimates within 5.8% (R2= 0.98) and 6.1% (R2= 0.98) of scale weight in the earlier and later time periods, respectively. Earlier equations developed for polar bears in this subpopulation performed poorly when applied to recently sampled individuals. In contrast, some contemporary equations from other regions performed reasonably well, suggesting that temporal changes within a subpopulation may be more pronounced than regional differences and can render earlier predictive equations obsolete. Our results have important implications for current and future studies of polar bear body condition and the effects of ongoing climate warming.
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