How to Become a Marine Biologist

Marine Biologist Key Stats
Avg. Salary / year $68,800
Avg. Pay / hour $33.08
Education 4+ Years
Job Outlook 5%

Marine Biology is a field of study and research dedicated to organisms and ecosystems of the sea.

The job title of marine biologist could apply to a wide variety of different job types.

A marine biologist could choose from a variety of career paths; they might find themselves working as a dolphin trainer, as a researcher in the area of sea life, or a part of a project to protect wildlife.
One thing that all marine biologists have in common is a strong interest in the ocean and its ecosystems, as well as an aptitude for research, and a deep passion for animals and their welfare.

Education Requirements to Become a Marine Biologist

The best starting point to become a marine biologist would be to complete a college degree with a major in biology.

Other science subjects in areas like chemistry and physics will also be helpful.

You don’t necessarily need to attend a college who has a stream dedicated to marine biology, in fact, at this point of your career it is more important to get a good grasp of the sciences.

Instead, look for a college that is strong in science, but has a marine faculty where you can work and gain experience.

Being in the presence of qualified marine biologists will be inspiring, as well as very beneficial.

Most marine biologists go on to graduate school, this is the best time to specialize.

By now you will have a very strong background in other sciences, and be best equipped to take on studies in marine biology.

If you’re planning a to become a marine biologist, it’s also important to not only gain academic qualifications, but also experience.

If you’re in high school or college, look to complete some work experience in a local aquarium, marina, or wildlife society.

Even if you live nowhere near the ocean, you can still look for conservation societies in your area where you can volunteer.

You will still be learning relevant skills and gaining experience.

Marine Biologist Job Description

  • Training mammals such as dolphins and whales
  • Working in an aquarium
  • Conducting research programs
  • Conducting education programs
  • Animal rescue and rehabilitation
  • Protecting endangered animals and eco-systems

There is no typical role for a marine biologist, while one may spend their career conducting research at a university, another may spend it on the field, spending extended periods at sea.

Some mammal trainers will work in zoos and aquariums, both caring for and training mammals, as well as interacting with the public.

Marine Biologist Salary and Career Path

Marine biologists may work at colleges and universities, for government departments, or for zoos and sea parks.

Most will complete a postgraduate degree, then seek an entry level job at one of these organizations.

For instance, if you were interested in research, you would look for a position at a college with a strong marine biology program.

If you wanted to train dolphins, you would look for a role at an aquarium or sea park.

While you might not be in your ideal role right away, with time and experience you will be able to get the job you want.

Being in the right kind of organization is important.

Later in their careers, many marine biologists take the opportunity to teach, or work in other areas of science and biology.

Those in areas of tourism may do on to management or administrative positions.

Just as the type of work a marine biologist may do is varied, so it the expected salary.

Once you become a marine biologist you could expect to earn anywhere between $30,000 and $80,000 per year.

While working as a marine biologist is no doubt a stimulating and rewarding career, it is also a challenging one.

Job opportunities for marine biologists are limited, so to be successful you will need to be prepared to put in the hard work.

If you would like a career in this area, it’s important to start working towards it early.

Taking math and science subjects in high school and college is important.

Being involved in activities that complement you career choice is important too.

Working in conservation groups, or any experience or part-time jobs that relate to sea life will be very highly regarded later on.

One of the best aspects of becoming a marine biologist is that you will have the power to make a genuine difference to the environment, as well as many endangered species.

If this is where your passion lies, then a career in marine biology may be the right choice for you.

BLSThe below information is based on the 2021 BLS national averages.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$124,290
New Hampshire$74,770
New Jersey$93,120
New Mexico$75,990
New York$104,780
North Carolina$92,720
North Dakota$75,750
South Carolina$95,610
West Virginia$77,530
Puerto Rico$65,270

The top earning state in the field is District of Columbia, where the average salary is $124,290.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

District of Columbia - $124,290
Maryland - $107,850
Connecticut - $105,710
New York - $104,780
Massachusetts - $102,540
* Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Biological Scientists, OCC Code 19-1029, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a marine biologist do?

A marine biologist is a specialist who studies marine organisms and what their lives in their natural habitats are like.

An aspiring marine biologist can choose to specialize in one out of many spheres; one can study large ocean animals, while other specialists try to investigate the environmental conditions that marine creatures face, for example.

There is a wide range of specializations in the field – marine biotechnology, oceanography; a marine biologist can become a fishery biologist, a marine mammalogist, an ichthyologist, and so on.

The typical duties of the specialist usually include collecting field and samples for analyses; reviewing research and literature; using instrumentation to track and measure organisms; working to rebuild damaged ecosystems; monitoring environmental compliance; researching organisms and their behavior, etc.

How much do marine biologists make?

On average, a marine biologist can make a little more than $32.000 per year in the United States.

In case you decide to follow this career path, you can expect to earn anywhere between $24.000 and $72.000 annually.

The salary would certainly depend on a variety of factors – your education and experience level, the employer, the location and so on.

An entry-level marine biologist can earn $12 per hour, while a specialist with plenty of experience will make $34 and more.

How much does it cost to become a marine biologist?

You would, n most cases, need at least a bachelor’s degree in marine biology, zoology, general biology or a related field, in order to become a marine biologist.

A year in a university can cost you anywhere between $8.000 and $45.000 (and more); the cost depends on a variety of factors (the books, supplies, and accommodation expenses are not included).

However, the advanced positions would require you to have a master’s degree (over $11.000) or a doctorate degree, in case you want to become a professor or focus on independent research in marine biology (a Ph.D. will cost you around $20.000 per year).

What is the demand for marine biologists?

Between 2018 and 2028, the zoologist and wildlife biologist (marine biologist included) job market is expected to grow by 5%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That is pretty much as fast as the national average for all occupations in the United States.

At the moment, marine biology is an extremely competitive field, as most funding comes from governmental agencies and the number of open jobs is limited by budgetary constraints.

How long does it take to become a marine biologist?

It will take you 4 years to obtain a bachelor’s degree and another 2 years to earn a master’s degree.

A doctorate degree typically takes 4-6 years to acquire.

You should consider seeking internships with prospective employers (often offered in the summer); you would need the on-the-job experience, especially if your university did not have a major in marine biology.

Jamie Willis
Career Specialist at BecomeopediaHi, my name is Jamie Willis, and I have been helping students find their perfect internships and education paths for the last ten years. It is a passion of mine, and there really is nothing better than seeing students of mine succeed with further studies.

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