Salary of a Marine Biologist

A Realistic Assessment of a Marine Biologist's Earning Potential

Biologist taking skin sample from a whale
Louise Murray/RobertHarding World Imagery/Getty Images

Think you want to be a marine biologist? An important consideration might be what amount you'll earn. It is a tricky question, as marine biologists perform a variety of jobs, and what they are paid depends on what they do, who employs them, their level of education, and experience. Learn more about the job and potential salary range of a position as a marine biologist.

First, what does a marine biologist's job entail?

The term 'marine biologist' is a very general term for someone who studies or works with animals or plants that live in salt water. There are thousands of species of marine life—so while some marine biologists do well-recognized jobs like training marine mammals, the vast majority of marine biologists do other things—including studying the deep sea, working in aquariums, teaching at a college or university, or even studying the tiny microbes in the ocean. Some jobs may involve tasks as odd as studying whale poop or whale breath.

What is a marine biologist's salary?

Because the jobs of a marine biologist are so wide-ranging, their salary is also. A person that has focused on marine biology in college may first get an entry-level technician job helping a researcher in a lab or in the field (or rather, out in the ocean).

These jobs may pay an hourly wage (sometimes minimum wage) and may or may not come with benefits. Jobs in marine biology are competitive, so often a potential marine biologist will need to get experience through a volunteer position or internship before they can get a paying job. To get additional experience, marine biology majors may want to get a job on a boat (e.g., as a crew member or naturalist) or even at a vet's office where they can learn more about anatomy and working with animals.

More established marine biologists may earn from about $35,000 to about $80,000. The median pay, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is about $60,000, but they lump the marine biologists in with all zoologists and wildlife biologists.

In many organizations and universities, a marine biologist will have to write grants to supply funding for their salaries.  Those working in non-profit organizations may need to assist with other types of fundraising in addition to grants, such as meeting with donors or running fundraising events.

Should you become a marine biologist?

Most marine biologists do their jobs because they love the work. It is a benefit in itself, even though compared to some other jobs, they don't make a lot of money, and the work is not always steady. So you should weigh the benefits of a job as a marine biologist (e.g., often working outside, getting to travel (sometimes to exotic locations), working with marine life) with the fact that jobs in marine biology generally pay fairly modestly.

Unfortunately, positions for wildlife biologists are not growing as fast as for jobs in general. As many positions are funded from government sources, they are limited by governmental budgets.

You will need to be good at studying science and biology in school to get the degrees necessary to become a marine biologist. You need at least a bachelor's degree, and for many positions, they will prefer a person with a master's degree or doctorate. That will entail many years of advanced study and tuition expenses.

Even if you don't choose marine biology as a career, keep in mind that you still may get to work with marine lifemany aquariums, zoos, rescue and rehabilitation organizations and conservation organizations look for volunteers, and some positions may involve working directly with, or at least on behalf of, marine life.