Marine biologists are scientists who study marine, or saltwater, organisms. Some marine biologists work with marine animals like fish and whales, while others study the activities and habitats of marine plant life or microscopic organisms. Marine biologists vary not only in the types of organisms they study, but in the ways they conduct their work. Some work out in the field conducting observation or preservation activities, while others work in research laboratories, and many work in both types of settings.
The research that marine biologists do may focus on marine ecology, conservation, and understanding the evolution, behavior, and physiology of marine organisms.
Studying marine biology as an undergraduate is not a prerequisite to becoming a marine biologist, however. Marine biologists may find it useful to develop a strong background in engineering, mathematics, or computer science in addition to pursuing a natural sciences education.
Students in biology programs study biochemistry, cell biology, ecology, and evolution in addition to taking courses in physics, chemistry, calculus, and statistics. Biology students can choose elective courses to supplement the required courses for their major, and some schools offer courses in marine ecology and zoology, which is study of the animal kingdom.
Like students in general biology programs, zoology students take courses in mathematics, physics, and chemistry. After completing their core coursework in biology, zoology students take courses that focus on animal behavior and physiology or they may study particular types of animals like insects, birds, fish, or mammals.
Some colleges and universities offer undergraduate degree programs in marine biology. Marine biology students take courses that focus on oceanography, marine vegetation, marine invertebrates, marine vertebrates, and marine ecology. Many of the schools that offer marine biology programs are located near an ocean.
Students may choose to focus on the ecology of a specific marine area, or they may study a type of marine organism, like corals, fish, mammals, or plankton. Graduate students are also expected to conduct some original research in their area of interest and present a thesis.
Marine biologists must complete at least a bachelor’s degree, which takes about four years.
Marine biology is a vast field that includes the study of a wide variety of organisms. There are many professional associations devoted to bringing together scientists who study specific animals, plants, and microorganisms. Some organizations also focus on conservation.
The Scripps Institution of Oceanography maintains a list of marine professional societies and membership organizations, and you may find this list useful both for planning a career in marine biology and in determining what area of marine biology you are most interested in.
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