An aquarist feeds fish in a hatchery

An aquarist could...


Investigate how to breed different species in captivity to populate exhibits. Photo of a leafy sea dragon Create and maintain an aquarium exhibit that delights visitors. Three children stand in front of a large glass wall in an aquarium
Prepare food and vitamins for fishes and other aquarium animals. A spade full of fish food above a large fish tank Stimulate animals by creating species-specific toys and challenges. A sea otter holding toy blocks of ice
Find out more...

Key Facts & Information

Overview A summer day at the beach can be very relaxing. The sand is warm and the waves lap gently on the shore. But beneath the water's surface is a world that is teeming with rich plant and animal life. For many of us, it isn't possible to experience this world firsthand. But at a public aquarium, we can take a peek and examine close up the beautiful fish and coral. An aquarist cares for the animal and plant life that you see in those aquarium displays. Aquarists make sure that all of the animals and plants in their displays are well fed and free of disease.
Key Requirements Strong swimming ability, deep interest in animals, keen observational skills
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Chemistry, biology, physics, algebra, geometry, calculus; If available: statistics
Median Salary
Aquarist
  $32,000
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
  $49,630
Min Wage
  $15,080
$0
$10,000
$20,000
$30,000
$40,000
$50,000
$60,000
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Average (7% to 13%)
Interview
  • Meet Hannah Ban-Weiss, a Sea Otter Aquarist II at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.
  • Chris Wade is senior aquarist at Oahu's Sea Life Park Hawaii. Read about Chris's less-traditional path to becoming an aquarist.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

Nearly all aquarists need to be certified scuba divers before they can take their first aquarium-related position. Certification classes are available at many two- and four-year colleges, private fitness organizations, and diving companies. Candidates interested in becoming aquarists must first intern at an aquarium, zoo, or research lab.

The salary range is quite large depending on location and experience. Starting salaries can be as low as $18,000 to $22,000 but for more experienced people at top institutions the salary can rise to nearly $50,000.

Education and Training

The minimum degree required for an entry-level aquarist position is a bachelor's degree in marine biology or zoology.

Nature of the Work

Aquarists are just like zookeepers, except their charges live under water. Aquarists take care of fish and other aquatic creatures at large aquariums. They feed and monitor animals and maintain exhibits. Aquarists check the temperature and conditions of fish tanks. They look for any medical problems with the animals, such as injuries, sluggish swimming, and lack of interest in food. Aquarists also prepare food with vitamin supplements for all the fish under their care.

Watch this cool video and learn about this awesome career. Leslee Matsushige is an aquarist and an assistant curator at Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She is an expert at maintaining exhibits of sea horses and sea dragons.

Aquarists' duties include cleaning tanks so that patrons can fully enjoy the creatures within. They take water samples and analyze them with pH strips and laboratory equipment to make sure that the water filtration and temperature systems are in working order. Clean water keeps fish healthy.

Many animals come directly from the wild. Aquarists collect creatures and plants from freshwater and seawater a few times each year. They must be prepared to travel internationally and have travel documents such as a passport. Scuba certification is also a must in order to collect interesting specimens.

Some aquarists train seals, dolphins, and other marine animals to perform tricks and interact with humans. They are responsible for keeping their animals mentally engaged and do so by creating stimulating environments. Training can make caring for the animals easier.

Work Environment

Aquarists work in a variety of industries, including public aquariums and zoos, education centers with aquariums, marine research labs, state and federal agencies for natural resources, theme parks, and pet and aquarium stores. Aquarists have variable work schedules and often must be willing to work on weekends and holidays.

Some positions require travel to local and international sites for specimen collection.

On the Job

  • Preserve exhibit aesthetics by cleaning viewing surface regularly, adding and removing specimens, maintaining proper lighting, and removing unwanted materials.
  • Maintain aquarium tank-life support by monitoring equipment performance and troubleshooting, repairing, and replacing equipment as necessary.
  • Test aquarium water quality and make adjustments as necessary.
  • Acquire specimens after identifying sources and obtaining permits. Oversee specimen transport, acclimation, and introduction into exhibits.
  • Determine the dietary needs of specimens. Prepare meals and feed specimens.
  • Maintain and record animal health by observing and diagnosing health issues, and applying appropriate treatments.
  • Design exhibits after determining theme and focus and after conducting feasibility study. Design appropriate life-support system.
  • Locate and order materials, prepare location, and construct exhibits.
  • Assist with training, education, and media relations. May include training volunteers and interns and preparing presentations for tours.

Companies That Hire Aquarists

Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...

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Ask Questions

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Additional Information

Sources

  • O*Net Online. (2016). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved July 1, 2017.
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium. (2011). Teen Career Resources - Meet Hannah Ban-Weiss Sea Otter Aquarist II. Retrieved June 21, 2019, from https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/education/teen-career-resources/sea-otter-aquarist-ii
  • # Link Name="Aquarist.5" Value="HtmlAnchor" HtmlText="OceanCareers.com" #]. (n.d.). Chris Wade - dive safety officer & senior aquarist. Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence. Retrieved April 15, 2011.
  • MianaKenobi. (2009, May 19). Aquarist - Birch Aquarium of Scripps. YouTube.com. Retrieved April 15, 2011.
  • Crosby, O. (2001). Wild jobs with wildlife: jobs in zoos and aquariums. Occupational Outlook Quarterly. Retrieved April 15, 2011.
  • # Link Name="Aquarist.10" Value="HtmlAnchor" HtmlText="OceanCareers.com" #]. (n.d.). Aquarist: tasks and duties. Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence. Retrieved April 15, 2011.
  • # Link Name="Aquarist.11" Value="HtmlAnchor" HtmlText="Glassdoor.com" #]. (2011, February 28). Aquarist salaries. Glassdoor, Inc. Retrieved June 27, 2011.
  • Sea Grant Marine Careers. (2009). Salaries. NH Sea Grant Program. Retrieved January 19, 2017, from https://www.marinecareers.net/salaries
Free science fair projects.