PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Oregon Zoo worked with biologists and researchers to test a state-of-the-art laser technology by scanning the zoo’s polar bears.

According to the zoo, researchers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service tested the technology on polar bears Nora and Amelia Gray to provide a safe, non-invasive way to monitor similar bears in the wild.

“Currently the way we weigh bears is with a big metal tripod, and they have to be immobilized,” said Lindsey Mangipane, a polar bear biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We’re hoping this method will give us a way to evaluate body size of bears that doesn’t require capture and handling.”

Mangipane and her colleagues first learned that the National Park Service was imaging brown bears using 3D laser scanning technology in Katmai National Park, as part of Fat Bear Week, said the zoo. They wondered if the same technology could be used on polar bears in the wild, and they came to Oregon Zoo’s Polar Passage habitat to find out.

Because the zoo bears are weighed regularly by care staff, added the announcement, Mangipane and her colleagues can calibrate the laser technology against the known weights to determine how accurate it is.

While Nora and Amelia Gray enjoyed some frozen treats, researchers trained their invisible scanning lasers on the bears from the roof of Polar Passage.

“Nora and Amelia Gray were so fun to work with,” recalled Mangipane. “And their care staff did a great job getting them in a good position that we could conduct the scans.”

Accurate information about wild polar bears’ body mass and condition could help researchers answer a lot of questions, according to Mangipane. Bears that are in good body condition have increased fitness levels and are more likely to have cubs.

As sea ice in the Arctic retreats, this information becomes even more important in the effort to conserve wild polar bears, the zoo noted.

This also isn’t the first-time polar bears at the zoo have lent a helping paw to science.

The announcement said Nora enjoys her time in a swim flume designed to help scientists understand the caloric requirements of wild polar bears; and before moving to Portland, Amelia Gray was one of a handful of bears outfitted with a “Burr on Fur” — a prototype tech innovation designed by 3M to give conservation scientists a better way to monitor wild bears.

“We still have gaps in understanding how climate change is affecting polar bears, so it’s essential that the bears in our care help scientists learn more about their species,” said Amy Cutting, interim director of animal care and conservation at the Oregon Zoo. “Zoo bears are perfect candidates to help because they already participate in many health-care behaviors voluntarily and seem to find those experiences enriching.”

Cutting added that much of today’s zoo-based polar bear science has its roots in animal-care advances at the Oregon Zoo.

In 2012, polar bears Conrad and Tasul became the first of their species to voluntarily give blood, according to the press release. Cutting described the breakthrough as “huge” in terms of improved animal welfare and veterinary care.

After reading a news article about this milestone, said the zoo, polar bear scientist Karyn Rode contacted the Oregon Zoo for assistance with her research in the arctic. Polar bears are extremely difficult to observe in the wild, and Rode, a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Changing Arctic Ecosystems initiative, believed the zoo’s training advances presented a unique opportunity to fill critical knowledge gaps.

Tasul helped Rode learn how climate change was affecting the diets of wild polar bears, then assisted one of her USGS colleagues by wearing a high-tech collar to help calibrate tracking collars deployed on wild bears, noted the announcement.

“The collaborative efforts couldn’t come at a more urgent time. As climate change reduces Arctic Sea ice, polar bears struggle to find and catch seals, making it harder for them and their cubs to survive,” explained the zoo. “The species is classified as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission has designated the species as facing a high risk of global extinction.”