A marine biologist collecting water samples from the ocean

A marine biologist could...

Research how ocean acidification is affecting marine organisms. Close-up photo of coral in a reef Discover new compounds to make medications by studying novel marine bacteria. Circular bacteria colonies growing in a petri dish
Help the seafood industry provide consumers with sustainable food choices. An assortment of various seafood Tag and track whales to learn more about their behavior. Four orcas swimming near the oceans surface side-by-side
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Key Facts & Information

Overview Do you enjoy going to the ocean? Do you like examining all of the marine creatures in tide pools? Do you read up on the different kinds of ocean mammals and fish for fun? If this is the case, then you may be the right fit for a career as a marine biologist. Marine biology is the study of ocean aquatic organisms, their behaviors, and their interactions with the environment. Because this field of study is an intersection of zoology, biology, and technology, marine biologists can apply their knowledge in many different ways.
Key Requirements Love of nature and the oceans, creativity, persistence, curiosity
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Biology, chemistry, physics, algebra, geometry, calculus; if available, marine biology, statistics
Median Salary
Marine Biologist
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%)
  • Marine biologist Sylvia Earle has spent much of the last five decades exploring and protecting the world's oceans.
  • Dr. Scott Baker is from Alabama but works in New Zealand. In this Scholastic interview, he answers all kinds of questions about marine biology.
  • You can learn a lot about marine biology by reading these marine biology career profiles at the SeaGrant marine careers website.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

Taking workshops or attending seminars on an ongoing basis can be a crucial part of learning new ideas and skills. This becomes especially important for those who wish to publish their work or perform topical and cutting-edge research.

Education and Training

A bachelor's or master's degree in marine biology, biology, or zoology usually is required for most entry-level marine biology research jobs, though a PhD usually is required to carry out independent research in biology and to teach at the university level.

Nature of the Work

Marine biology is the study of marine organisms, their behaviors, and their interactions with their environment. However, the term marine biology is actually used for many disciplines and jobs in the marine sciences that deal with the study of marine life, not just for those concerning the physical properties of the sea. Marine biology is one of the broadest fields of study in oceanography. Marine biologists must have a working knowledge of chemical oceanography, physical oceanography, and geological oceanography.

This video shows a profile of the remarkable marine biologist Sylvia Earle.

Because marine biology is so broad, most marine biologists usually specialize in one area. A marine biologist could study a specific species, behavior, or the ecosystem that marine organisms live in.

  • Marine biotechnologists study and apply the functions and behaviors of marine species to improve human life. Some marine biotechnologists study marine organisms in order to develop drugs that are used to cure human disease.
  • Molecular biologists apply molecular approaches to the study of marine ecosystems and marine organisms. For example, a molecular biologist investigates diseases of marine organisms at a molecular level, using appropriate tools and techniques.
  • Aquaculturists study the farming of finfish, shellfish, and seaweed. This area of study is gaining importance as consumer demand for fish exceeds what can be caught by commercial fishing. These scientists work to improve the output of their farms and eliminate disease in the fish population.
  • Environmental biologists and toxicologists study how toxic substances in the marine environment have impacts on and applications in our society. Examples of environmental biology and toxicology research include water-quality studies and surveys of contaminants or pollutants in the coastal or marine environment. Local, state, and federal officials consult marine and environmental biologists and toxicologists in the design of laws, regulations, and cleanup measures to protect our environment. Theses biologists will continue to play a role in our society as stewards of the environment.

Work Environment

The working environment may vary for a marine biologist from one day to the next. Most marine scientists maintain a laboratory where they can conduct their observations and experiments. They may spend their whole day in this lab or they may use it only part of the time. When not in the lab, marine biologists work outdoors. Their day can be dictated by such things as the weather or by the animals they study.

Marine biologists may travel to outside sites to handle certain aspects of research or experiments directly. Marine biologists may be called upon for marine-animal rescue missions, such as after oil spills, to which they may have to travel. They may present their findings at conferences or workshops. This is usually not a job that involves a lot of stress, and the benefits may include the possibility of working outdoors in attractive locations.

On the Job

  • Develop and maintain liaisons and effective working relations with groups and individuals, agencies, and the public to encourage cooperative management strategies or to develop information and interpret findings.
  • Program and use computers to store, process, and analyze data.
  • Collect and analyze biological data about relationships among and between organisms and their environment.
  • Study aquatic plants and animals and environmental conditions affecting them, such as radioactivity or pollution.
  • Communicate test results to state and federal representatives and the general public.
  • Identify, classify, and study structure, behavior, ecology, physiology, nutrition, culture, and distribution of plant and animal species.
  • Prepare environmental impact reports for industry, government, or publication.
  • Represent employer in a technical capacity at conferences.
  • Plan and administer biological research programs for government, research firms, medical industries, or manufacturing firms.
  • Research environmental effects of present and potential uses of land and water areas, determining methods of improving environmental conditions or such outputs as crop yields.
  • Review reports such as those relating to land-use classifications and recreational development for accuracy and adequacy.
  • Measure salinity, acidity, light, oxygen content, and other physical conditions of water to determine their relationship to aquatic life.
  • Teach and supervise students and perform research at universities and colleges.
  • Supervise biological technicians and technologists and other scientists.
  • Study basic principles of plant and animal life such as origin, relationship, development, anatomy, and function.
  • Study and manage wild animal populations.
  • Prepare requests for proposals or statements of work.
  • Cultivate, breed, and grow aquatic life such as lobsters, clams, or fish.
  • Prepare plans for management of renewable resources.
  • Develop methods and apparatus for securing representative plant, animal, aquatic, or soil samples.
  • Study reactions of plants, animals, and marine species to parasites.
  • Develop pest management and control measures, and conduct risk assessments related to pest exclusion using scientific methods.

Companies That Hire Marine Biologists

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