What Is a Marine Biologist?

Defining Marine Biology as a Career

Marine Biologist observing Juvenile Hammer
Jeff Rotman/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Marine biology is the scientific study of organisms that live in salt water. A marine biologist, by definition, is a person that studies, or works with a salt water organism or organisms.

That is a fairly brief definition for a very general term, as marine biology encompasses many things. Marine biologists may work for private businesses, in non-profit organizations, or at universities and colleges. They may spend most of their time outdoors, such as on a boat, underwater, or in tide pools, or they may spend much of their time indoors in a laboratory or aquarium.

Marine Biology Jobs

Some career paths that a marine biologist would take include any of the following:

  • Working with whales, dolphins or pinnipeds in an aquarium or zoo
  • Working in a rescue/rehabilitation facility
  • Studying smaller organisms like sponges, nudibranchs or microbes and using them to learn about neuroscience and medicine
  • Studying shellfish and the best way to raise animals like oysters and mussels in an aquaculture environment.
  • Researching a particular marine species, behavior or notion; and teaching at a university or college.

Depending on the type of work they'd like to do, there may be extensive education and training required to be a marine biologist. Marine biologists usually need many years of education -- at least a bachelor's degree, but sometimes a master's degree, Ph.D. or post-doctorate degree. Because jobs in marine biology are competitive, outside experience with volunteer positions, internships, and outside study are helpful to land a rewarding job in this field. In the end, a marine biologist's salary may not reflect their years of schooling as well as, say, a doctor's salary. This site indicates an average salary of $45,000 to $110,000 per year for a marine biologist working in an academic world. That may be the highest-paying job path for marine biologists.

Marine Biology Schooling

Some marine biologists major in topics other than marine biology; according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Southwest Fisheries Science Center, most of the biologists are fishery biologists. Of those who went on to do graduate work, 45 percent got a B.S. in biology and 28 percent got their degree in zoology. Others studied oceanography, fisheries, conservation, chemistry, mathematics, biological oceanography, and animal scientists. Most got their master's degrees in zoology or fisheries, in addition to oceanography, biology, marine biology, and biological oceanography. A small percentage got their master's degree in ecology, physical oceanography, animal sciences, or statistics. Ph.D. students studied similar topics including operations research, economics, political science, and statistics.

Click here to learn more about what marine biologists do, where they work, how to become a marine biologist, and what marine biologists get paid.