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What are some realistic Jobs in wildlife and marine Biology?

I'm looking into getting my masters/doctorate in marine and/or wildlife biology. I'm interested in environmental science as well. I'm feeling a bit lost! #biology #marine-biology #environmental-science #zoology

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David’s Answer

The Best Marine Animal Jobs

There are many career options for those who want to work with marine animals in some capacity. These careers range from training dolphins for major marine parks to conducting marine biology research studies on a particular species of interest. Below are several popular job possibilities for those interested in pursuing a marine career.

Marine Mammal Trainer
Marine mammal trainers work with many different species such as dolphins, whales, seals, and sea lions. Trainers use operant conditioning methods to elicit specific behaviors from the animals under their supervision.

Many marine mammal trainers also participate in shows and demonstrations for the public at the facility they work for, whether these are educational events or simple entertainment. Successful marine mammal trainers usually have some combination of formal education and hands-on training in the field. Marine mammal trainer wages can vary widely depending on the duties of each specific job, but an average range of $30,000 to $40,000 per year is possible.

Marine Biologist
Marine biologists are scientists who study all types of marine life. Marine biologists may focus their careers by working in areas such as research, academia, or private industry. Advanced degrees (at the Masters or Ph.D. level) are usually required for positions in the field, particularly in education or research.

The salary for marine biologists varies based on the level of education. Entry level positions begin around $40,000 per year, while those with advanced degrees may earn over $100,000 per year.

Fish and Game Warden
Fish and game wardens monitor wilderness areas, manage native species and ensure that hunters and fishermen comply with state and federal laws (as well as any additional local regulations). Work with aquatic species is possible in a variety of patrol locations such as wetlands, ponds, lakes, and rivers.

Two to four years of college is required, and most new hires receive extensive on the job training. The salary for fish and game warden positions may vary, but it usually ranges between $50,000 and $60,000 per year.

Aquarists take care of marine animals kept in the collections of aquariums, zoos, marine parks, and research facilities. They are responsible for all aspects of basic care as well as maintaining proper water quality. These positions generally require a four-year degree.

Scuba certification is also a common requirement since aquarists may spend a significant amount of time in the tanks to complete their feeding and tank maintenance duties. Experienced aquarists can expect to earn $40,000 to $50,000 per year, with the starting salary for new aquarists being about half of that amount.

Ichthyologists are biologists that study fish, sharks, and rays. Positions in ichthyology are available in several areas, including research, teaching, and animal collection management. A bachelor’s degree is required, at a minimum, to be considered an ichthyologist, with most positions requiring more advanced degrees at the Masters or Ph.D. level.

Salary varies based on experience and level of education, but compensation in the neighborhood of $60,000 would be a reasonable expectation.

Aquaculture Farmer
Aquaculture farmers raise fish and shellfish for a variety of uses such as food, bait or breeding stock. Basic animal care, water quality maintenance, and personnel management duties may be a part of an aquaculture position (both technician and management positions are available in the aquaculture industry).

Entry level positions may only require a high school diploma, but college degrees are preferred for managerial candidates. An aquaculture technician could expect to earn a salary in the range of $30,000 per year, while an aquaculture manager could expect to earn $60,000 per year or more.

Wildlife Veterinarian
Wildlife veterinarians provide health care services for a variety of marine mammals, fish, and other marine life. They may provide annual exams, treat injuries, prescribe medication, and perform surgery when required. Wildlife vets may choose to work in private practice or for businesses such as zoos, marine parks, aquariums, and research facilities.

The median wage for all aquatic veterinarians is about $90,000, but salary can range from $50,000 to $150,000, or more per year depending on the vet’s particular specialty and level of education completed. Board certified practitioners generally earn top end salaries.

Final Word
One final note, completing marine animal internships can be an important step towards a future career in the marine animal industry. Students who complete these hands-on learning opportunities gain valuable hands-on experience that can enhance their resumes.

A wide variety of opportunities are available in areas such as research, animal training, aquaculture, and animal health care. Many of these internships require students to have scuba diving certification, so candidates should seek this certification prior to applying.​
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Kim’s Answer

My career path entails working as a Marine Endangered/Protected Species Observer (ESO/PSO). I am deployed at sea for a few weeks to a few months living and working aboard vessel. I monitor and maintain watch looking for any marine mammals and/or sea turtles. Basically, I get paid to whale watch! Requires a BSc to get started. Also, fisheries observing is another popular sector working at sea.
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Assem’s Answer

1 Ocean Engineering
2 Marine Biology
3 Marine Mammal Trainer
4 Marine Archeology
5 Marine Researcher
6 Marine Environment Educator/ Oceanography
7 Aquatic Veterinarian
8 Scuba Diving Instructor and Underwater Filmmaker
9 Marine Scientist
10 Marine Environment Economist
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Randall’s Answer


A long answer to what seems like a simple question:

It is not clear to me if you are asking how to get into those environmental science jobs you mention or how to get the training you need for them. I will say your interest in jobs such as wildlife biology indicate your desire to be in the heart of nature and are seeking some thrill in the experience. Indeed this ideal is possible and you should find your work thrilling and fun but remember it is not always going to be glamorous!

First let me tell you there are many rooms in the environmental science house! I was interested in entomology as a masters student and I got a job assessing the effect of silviculture (tree harvesting) on insect populations. I ended up in a dark room counting and identifying literally thousands of individual insects collected on sticky board traps for many hours a day. Each board had up to 3000 insects and there were 100 boards. But that was not all. There were pit fall traps, sweep net samplings, and soapy water traps as well. All samples were taken before and after silviculture. It may have been much more fun for the field people who made and set up those traps than it was for me. I ended up with a stiff and sort neck but I can say I found some of the strangest insects!

Eventually I decided lab work was much better for me. You have better control over your projects. As an example a colleague of mine was spending several years studying scent mounding behavior of beavers and then suddenly the Army Corps of Engineers decided to drop the water level in the reservoir he was working in by 20 feet and totally screwed his project!

Let us examine Marine Biology. As for all environmental science programs, you should go to a large enough college/university that can give you a taste of the subject. I was very interested in marine biology when I started as an undergraduate. I took a few field courses. One professor was a specialist in “interstitial meiofauna” (critters that live between sand grains) and he spent about 2 weeks at a shore collecting sand samples. He spent the rest of the year (whole year) studying those samples under a microscope in his Ohio lab. I knew I was not going to be riding whales for fun but this was not what I had in mind. I could easily see working with fisheries and maintenance of estuaries. I have known marine biologists who spend much of their time on factory fishing ships assessing the quality and quantities of fish being harvested. I also have known them to be involved in fishing farming. But if you have a MS or PhD you can also teach in colleges and universities. You can get grants to do your research. One marine biologist I knew got a grant with the Navy to characterize biological sound sources under water which interfere with naval sonar. Of course, there are other special groups you might consider such as environmental activist organizations.

You can go on-line and find what government jobs in marine biology there are to get a feel for what is needed now. But remember, by the time you are ready to graduate that may change considerably.

Now consider Wildlife Biology. I remember one faculty member who specialized in high altitude mammal behavior/ecology (mostly pikas) telling me that one school in a western state put out enough wildlife graduates to take up 90% of the available jobs each year. That was a while back but you might remember there is some competition out there! Remember you may find it necessary to be flexible and willing to move to places you never thought you might end up.

One thing about wildlife management is that you might find yourself becoming more of a law enforcement officer. So you may need to meet all the training and certifications of a police officer. This can get tricky in some parts of the country. But if you are doing government mandated research you will find yourself mostly doing censuses of selected species. You would likely be doing impact statements for industrial operations or opening regions for development. In state programs you might be taking all hunting data such as numbers, weights, lengths, species etc. and maintain a data base for future reference and to assess the health of local wildlife populations. Once again, if you have a graduate degree, you can consider a faculty position in a university or college. Every state has a “land grant” university which specializes mostly in agriculture but other biological resources are commonly included as well such as deer, fisheries, grouse, waterfowl etc. If you are researching these, there are many directions you might take, not just maintenance but perhaps climate change impacts and toxicology as well.

There are some institutions which are NGO but still rely on public funding. As an example, Hawk Mountain in PA has research and educational programs going on all the time. There should be something like it near where you live. These institutions often have a history of wealthy benefactors and become full fledged research institutions. Think of arboretums, conservatories, refuges and such. I would recommend you go to some of these, talk with the personnel, maybe volunteer and ultimately take an internship if you find it to your liking. It seems the interns at some such places are quite happy with what they are doing. At Hawk Mountain they may take visitors on nature walks, count hawks during migrations, maintain injured wildlife recovery services, organize speaker events, children’s creative projects etc.

Then Environmental Science. This can apply to any of the above but often an environmental scientist is somewhat different. I often refer to myself as an “environmental toxicologist.” But even that can mean different things to different people. I was involved in the physiology of insecticide poisoning, environmental fate of toxics, largely agricultural in nature, and analytical method development. But some specialize in plant biology. Some are more veterinary in nature. Then there are some more climatological, psychological, or you simply may be a statistician. I spent much of my career analyzing environmental samples such as water, air, soil, blood, urine, plant/animal tissues, and effluents from industrial waste streams. Usually someone else would collect the samples, another would prepare them and then I would analyze and report the results.

Ultimately in the categories of environmental science you mention, there are jobs to be had. Some are routine, some are challenging, some might even be a bit glamorous. But it is up to you to find your own personal way around in it. Some people may say it is important to be uncompromising in achieving what you want out of your career choice. If you are determined enough, you may get just what you dream of but achieving it may well be stressful. If you are flexible you will move along in this industry gracefully but you may not really know where you are going to end up.