Marine Biologist: Salary and Career Facts

Explore the career requirements for marine biologists. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements, job outlook and salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Biology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Marine Biologist?

Marine biologists study animals and plants that live in the ocean to understand their biology, behavior and ecosystems. They analyze how different species interact with one another, and how human life may impact them. They often use their findings for the sake conservation and breeding cultivation, presenting their work to the public of science establishments. They look closely at aspects like specimen population, reproduction. The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required PhD
Education Field of Study Marine biology; specialties include photobiology & deep-sea biology
Key Skills Field research, applied research, molecular biology, biochemistry; ability to live at sea in cold, uncomfortable, & possibly dangerous conditions for extended periods
Job Growth (2018-2028) 5% growth (for zoologists and wildlife biologists)*
Median Salary (2018) $63,420 (for zoologists and wildlife biologists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Marine Biologist Do?

Marine biologists work with animals that live in the ocean, but they are similar to wildlife biologists and zoologists. As such, they share many of the duties of other biologists, such as studying living organisms, their environments and their fundamental life processes. Marine biologists participate in basic (general) or applied (problem-based) research. Marine biologists are one of two types of aquatic biologists: marine biologists and limnologists. Marine biologists study organisms living in salt water, while limnologists research freshwater organisms.

Where Do Marine Biologists Work?

Because much of the research in this field focuses on molecular biology and the study of biochemical processes, it is often necessary to work in a lab with access to industry-current microscopes and other technology. However, marine biologists often work at sea as well, conducting research and observations of salt-water organisms from aboard boats or submarines.

What Education Do I Need To Be a Marine Biologist?

Nearly all marine biologists who do basic research hold a doctoral degree. Doctoral-level education in this field equips you with a comprehensive knowledge of physiological, genomic, organismic, evolutionary and biochemical processes of salt water organisms. In addition, it helps you understand the relationship between the organisms, their processes and their physical and biotic environments. PhD programs often allow you to take on a specialty within the field, including photobiology, deep-sea biology, vertebrate biology, high-pressure biology or microbiology.

What Courses Would I Take in a PhD Program in Marine Biology?

Doctoral-level courses in this field combine didactic training with hands-on training. Doctoral candidates commonly participate in fieldwork and do research on boats. There is usually a heavy emphasis on original research and publication. Typically, you will also learn about research methodologies, statistics for marine biology, data collection and interpretation, professional collaboration and pedagogy. This course of study typically culminates in a book-length dissertation. Courses you could take include but are not limited to the following:

  • Computational ocean acoustics
  • Signal processing
  • Geological record of climate change
  • Wave physics
  • Applied mathematics
  • Land surface hydrology
  • Physical oceanography

What Are the Job and Salary Prospects Like for Marine Biologists?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects employment of wildlife biologists and zoologists, including marine biologists, to rise by just 5% between 2018 and 2028, which is about as fast as the average for all U.S. occupations ( The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Southwest Fisheries Science Center reported in 2019 that employment in marine biology is very competitive. Federal and state governments provide the majority of jobs, but there are many more marine biologists seeking work than there are jobs available. Other employers include aquariums, university research facilities and consulting firms.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Related careers include biochemists and biophysicists, and veterinarians. Biochemists and biophysicists analyze biological processes and the interactions of chemicals, often to study the effects of substances. They may look at cells and specimens from plants and animals. Veterinarians diagnose and treat sick and injured animals. Both of these professions require a doctoral degree for entrance.

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