How to Become a Marine Biologist
Marine Biologist Careers & Degrees

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.

The below information is based on the 2019 BLS national averages.
  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary

$87,590
$48K
$63K
$87K
$101K
$133K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$67,130
Alaska$81,990
Arizona$87,600
Arkansas$73,380
California$96,640
Colorado$76,690
Connecticut$93,050
District of Columbia$108,280
Florida$68,710
Georgia$73,740
Hawaii$80,220
Idaho$72,330
Illinois$82,480
Indiana$68,100
Iowa$66,680
Kansas$67,440
Kentucky$63,960
Louisiana$67,840
Maryland$106,030
Massachusetts$98,480
Michigan$76,390
Minnesota$75,320
Mississippi$80,520
Missouri$68,190
Montana$68,100
Nebraska$78,480
Nevada$73,830
New Hampshire$83,510
New Jersey$78,820
New Mexico$77,190
New York$92,330
North Carolina$88,590
North Dakota$74,010
Ohio$78,770
Oklahoma$66,670
Oregon$72,560
Pennsylvania$74,920
Rhode Island$88,690
South Carolina$79,710
South Dakota$68,150
Tennessee$70,710
Texas$82,780
Utah$76,500
Vermont$77,720
Virginia$94,970
Washington$90,220
West Virginia$73,980
Wisconsin$62,500
Wyoming$71,960
Puerto Rico$61,600

The top earning state in the field is District of Columbia, where the average salary is $108,280.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

District of Columbia - $108,280
Maryland - $106,030
Massachusetts - $98,480
California - $96,640
Virginia - $94,970
* Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Biological Scientists, OCC Code 19-1029, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

QuestionWhat 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.

QuestionHow 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.

QuestionHow 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).

QuestionWhat 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.

QuestionHow 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.

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