Would you like to work in an aquarium one day? It takes many people and volunteers, each with their own responsibilities, to maintain an aquarium. Learn about some of the careers in marine science and at an aquarium and the people who work with our animals on a daily basis.
Marine Science Careers:
- Research Biologist
- Marine Mammalogist
- Biological Oceanographers and Marine Biologists
- Chemical Oceanographers and Marine Chemists
- Geological Oceanographers and Marine Geologists
- Physical Oceanographers
- Marine and Ocean Engineers
- Whale Biologist or Researcher
- Veterinary Services
- Animal Nutritionist
- Water Quality Technicians
- Life Support Systems
- Director of Exhibits and Graphics
- Exhibits Writer
- Public Relations
- Guest Programs Interpreter
Marine Science Careers
Imagine a day of SCUBA diving, a night on a research vessel at sea, a trip into mysterious deep waters in a submersible...and then, after you've compiled all your data, and looked at your findings, you may very well have discovered a new species, or a new theory. Studying new animal and plant species often results in new understandings of our oceans and the web of life. You may take part in a new discovery that leads to a cure, or treatment, of disease. You may discover why and how certain pollutants, or toxins, are affecting fish and subsequently other people or animals that eat them. Your findings could lead to legislation or marine sanctuary designations. A research biologist works with other scientists to research and explore many different marine-related topics and projects. Since research goes beyond books, you get to go on adventures out of town, or even out of the country, to meet and talk to people studying similar issues. Becoming a researcher is hard work, but it pays off when you land a challenging and exciting job! Focus on science and math in high school, and college, and then get as much field experience as you can with internships or volunteer work. Attend college and finish graduate school with at least a Master's degree in biological science. As a marine researcher, you're actually Sherlock Holmes with a SCUBA certification! Researchers use logic and data analysis for problem solving as well as writing skills to present their findings. Plus, be ready to spend long days on a boat in sometimes really rough seas, tranquil seas, moonlit seas, your very own sea.
A marine mammalogist's jobs range from daily veterinary care and training, to rescuing stranded mammals like otter pups. Sometimes mammalogists rehabilitate animals so they can be released back to the wild and survive on their own. For an entry-level position as a trainer or technician, you need a Bachelor of Science degree in marine biology, zoology or animal behavior. If you go for your Masters or Ph.D., you'll specialize in a specific research area. For example, if you'd like to work with whales, you should specialize in cetacean biology. If you're interested in seals, your focus will be on pinnipeds . It takes more than just a love of marine mammals to be successful as a marine mammalogist. You need strong science and math skills, patience while working with animals, and keen observation skills and persistence.
It is the scientific study of fish. An ichthyologist is a person who devotes a career to studying some of the estimated 25,000 to 30,000 species of bony fish, sharks, rays, and lobe-finned fish. Areas of specialty are as varied as the people who call themselves ichthyologistts, and may include study of classification, life history, anatomy, behavior, ecology or physiology, aquarium maintenance, fish breeding, and conservation. What ichthyologists have in common is a fascination and enduring curiosity about fish, the dominant vertebrate animals in marine and fresh waters. In addition to being the most species-rich group of vertebrates, fish are often used as experimental models for demonstration of basic biological principles. A Bachelor's degree is typically the minimum requirement for technical-support positions. Most research and teaching positions require a Master's or Doctoral degree, with many, particularly those at colleges, universities and major research institutions, requiring a Ph.D. Most students with an interest in ichthyology will major in zoology or biology, but they should take courses in a broad range of subjects. Courses in anatomy, development, statistics, systematics, biochemistry, behavior, genetics, ecology, and physiology will increase chances of admission into a good graduate program. Ichthyologists use a diversity of research methods and techniques. A good background in use of computers is now almost mandatory. Many ichthyologists conduct research in foreign countries or use non-English literature in their research; consequently, familiarity with one or more foreign languages is helpful. Specialized training, such as certification as a SCUBA diver, can be also quite useful and rewarding.
Biological Oceanographers and Marine Biologists
They study what controls the numbers and kinds of plants and animals in the marine environment. They are interested in how marine organisms develop, relate to one another, adapt to their environment, and interact with it. Their work may examine how underwater acoustics affect fish and marine mammals, how some animals use Earth's magnetic field to navigate, or how marine plants and animals respond to pollution. To accomplish their work they may use field observations, theoretical and numerical modeling, laboratory experimentation, and field experimentation. Some estimate that the oceans contain millions of species yet to be discovered.
Chemical Oceanographers and Marine Chemists
They study the composition of seawater, its processes and cycles—current and historical—and the chemical interaction of seawater with the atmosphere and seafloor. Their work may include analysis of seawater components, desalinization, and studying the effects of pollutants. They also examine chemical processes operating within the marine environment and work with biological oceanographers on studies of living systems. Their study of trace chemicals helps us understand how ocean currents move seawater around the globe and how the ocean affects climate. Marine chemists study how the oceans were formed eons ago and what determines their composition today. They identify potentially beneficial ocean resources such as natural products with medicinal properties, and investigate means to protect the oceans from the effects of pollution. Marine chemists also unravel much of the earth's history by studying ocean sediments, where clues to the past—such as variations in the global climate—are recorded.
Geological Oceanographers and Marine Geologists
Geological oceanographers and marine geologists explore the ocean floor and the processes that form its mountains, canyons, and valleys. Through sampling, they look at millions of years of history of seafloor spreading, plate tectonics, and oceanic circulation and climates. They also examine undersea volcanic processes, mantle circulation, hydrothermal circulation, magma genesis, and crustal formation. The results of their work help us understand the processes that created the ocean basins and the interactions between the ocean and the seafloor. An exciting new possibility is that studies of the exotic life forms living around hydrothermal vents could help shape the search for life in our solar system.
Physical oceanographers study the physical conditions and physical processes within the ocean such as: waves, currents, eddies, gyres and tides; the transport of sand beaches, and subsequent coastal erosion; the interactions of the atmosphere and the ocean. They examine deep currents, the ocean-atmosphere relationship that influences weather and climate, the transmission of light and sound through water, and the ocean's interactions with its boundaries at the seafloor and the coast. Physical oceanographers who are acousticians are using sound to examine the ocean's natural sound channels and provide information about global warming.
Marine and Ocean Engineers
They design and build many specialized technologies for exploring the ocean. Their work might involve remotely operated vehicles, sophisticated seafloor instruments, or remote-sensing systems, as well as designing marine structures that can withstand ocean currents, waves, tides, and severe storms. Subfields include: robotics; electrical, mechanical, civil, and chemical engineering; naval architecture etc.
Whale Biologist or Researcher
Whale or cetacean biology involves becoming familiar with a vast field of knowledge as you go through high school, and college. To begin, it is a good idea to take all the science courses available in high school and in your first years at a university. These courses include biology, chemistry, ecology, fish biology, zoology, and conservation courses. Having a strong computer science and mathematics background is important as well. Courses in statistics are critical to study in this field. It will take a minimum of four years to get your Bachelor of Science degree. It will take 2-6 more years to get your Masters or Doctoral degree. During your university years, it would be very helpful to gain experience working in both the lab and in the field. Summer and weekend jobs in biology will greatly aid you in creating a strong resume when pursuing a job following graduation. You should consider volunteering in a branch of the provincial Ministry of the Environment, the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, with a veterinarian, aquarium or zoo, wildlife resource centre, wildlife rehabilitation centre, or a natural history group in your local area. You may also get valuable experience by volunteering with a research team, or more specifically with a researcher studying cetaceans.
An aquarist/biologist has the fascinating job of getting up close and personal with a bunch of cool animals. He or she is in charge of feeding, treating diseases and observing the behavior of animals in any given aquarium exhibit. And let's not forget the scrubbing! An aquarist/biologist's job involves putting in some elbow grease to keep the exhibits looking their best and healthiest for its occupants, and the guests who view them. When not working with exhibits, an aquarist/biologist is out exploring and collecting animals or, quite possibly, doing important research on how to feed or care for animals. A minimum of a Bachelor of Science degree in biology or a related field is required. To be a successful aquarist/biologist, you need a SCUBA certification, knowledge of local marine life, experience caring for marine animals, people skills and an ability to work with a team.
Being a Veterinarian requires a broad palette of medicinal techniques applied to a wide variety of species. The average Veterinarian usually deals with domesticated pets such as dogs, cats, and occasionally exotic animals such as unusual mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish. Veterinarians may also specialize in livestock care, including cattle, swine, poultry, sheep, etc. The wider a Veterinarian’s interest, the more there is to study, and it doesn’t get any more specialized than Aquatic and Marine care. The International Association for Aquatic Animal Medicine (IAAAM) lists as its objective: To advance the art, and science, of aquatic animal medicine, and health, to promote the free exchange of knowledge in the interest of improving health care and husbandry of aquatic animals held in human care, and the proper conservation and management of aquatic animal resources in the wild. As an Aquatic/Marine Veterinarian, responsibilities would include: the primary clinical care for ill animals; a program of preventative veterinary medicine; quarantine animal diagnosis and treatment; water quality testing; animal nutrition and commissary operations; and scientific advancement through clinical research and conservation medicine efforts. Requirements for this position would include a VMD/DVM degree from an accredited college of veterinary medicine, and direct experience with aquatic/marine animals, and their holding systems.
You could also become a veterinary/laboratory technician. Responsibilities would include: veterinary technical skills or laboratory (involving the handling of biological samples); organizational and administrative duties; assisting veterinarians with all aspects of care including treatment, surgery, immobilization, necropsy, radiography, parasitology, animal handling and restraint, inventory control, neonatal care, rehabilitation, etc. Requirements would include a degree from a veterinary technology program, and previous clinical experience, preferably in an aquarium, or zoological setting.
At the Georgia Aquarium, the fish and animals are fed between 1500 to 2000 lbs. of food per day. That’s a lot of diet planning, preparation, feeding, and cleanup. Specialization in this area may fall under the job titles of Nutritional Services Keeper, Food Services Specialist, or Animal Nutrition Team Specialist. Responsibilities include directly operating, working within, and maintaining the animal commissary and associated equipment. You would also be working with a diverse team devoted to the development, implementation, and daily operation of veterinarian services, nutrition, clinical research, husbandry, and conservation medicine, to ultimately lead to the highest standard of aquatic animal care. While the work may be a little “fishy”, and sometimes exhausting, there is great satisfaction in seeing an aquarium full of healthy specimens. Preferred qualifications would include a Bachelor’s degree in biology, or chemistry/biochemistry, and some previous experience with husbandry, life support systems, and aquatic animals and their holding systems.
Water Quality Technicians
Clean, chemically balanced water at the right temperature is vital to maintaining healthy animals within an aquatic park. Water Quality staff members monitor and adjust seawater and freshwater systems throughout the park. Tests performed around the clock keep the quality at its peak 24 hours a day. The main responsibilities of Water Quality Technicians include performing chemical tests on water samples from all aquatic animal exhibits, monitoring quality and clarity, and making any necessary adjustments in water temperature or chemistry. They also troubleshoot and maintain water quality equipment, keeping accurate records for preventative maintenance. A Water Quality Technician must act quickly to fix broken pumps and filters, adjust unexplained changes in water chemistry, and ascertain factors that caused the change. Graduate from a program at an accredited community college or technical college that offers a program for Water Quality Technicians, or pursue a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry, environmental science, environmental health, or a relevant environmental science.
Life Support Systems
The world’s largest aquarium, Georgia Aquarium contains 8 million gallons of water. There are 6.3 million gallons of saltwater in the Ocean Voyager exhibit, all of which gets filtered and recycled every 60 minutes. Now, imagine the behind-the-scenes mechanics involved, everything from pumps, filtration systems, valves, ozonators, heat exchangers, air compressors, cooling systems, control systems, water testing, preventative and corrective maintenance, etc. If this sounds intriguing to you, you may be interested in pursuing a career in Life Support Systems. If you are mechanically inclined, local vocational colleges offer classes that would provide basic experience and training in this area. Joining an aquarium’s LLS department would provide an opportunity for on the job training. Life Support Operators usually require 3 years experience in aquatic life support systems. Responsibilities usually include the daily operations of all LSS systems and equipment, and interfacing with Zoological Operations staff regarding animal life support system adjustments and operations. After proving your abilities, and gaining more experience, you may qualify to become a Senior Life Support Operator-Automation Technician, or even a Life Support Systems Manager.
An education specialist works in creative ways to teach people of all ages about the wonders of marine science and ocean conservation. In this job, you could be out in the field on adventures with kids, in an aquarium discovering fascinating facts with a school group, or even visiting classrooms to make learning about the ocean fun for both teachers and students. The rewards are tremendous when you think of the potential benefit education has to the environment, and the ocean’s future. To score a job as an education specialist at an aquarium, you'll need an undergraduate degree in marine science, education or environmental education. Try to get as much teaching experience as possible. The more experience you have interacting with people of all ages, the better! This job is definitely for an energetic person with skills in leadership, communication, organization, writing and research. The ability to speak another language, such as Spanish, is highly recommended.
Director of Exhibits and Graphics
The position is responsible for the project management of an aquarium's permanent and changing exhibit galleries and non-living collections. The position also manages the design, fabrication, installation and maintenance of the exhibits (excluding aquarium tanks), interpretive graphics and signage - including expansion enhancement, and coordinates the specialized maintenance of the exhibits with other supporting departments. The position also researches, coordinates and books the aquarium's traveling exhibit program. The position manages the continuity of display images, graphics, color and sound within the overall aesthetic design of the facility, and directly supervises an exhibit staff, and manages project activities that use other employees and volunteers.
Ever wonder who writes all those catchy exhibit signs in an aquarium? Well, it’s an exhibits writer, that's who! An exhibits writer takes complicated scientific information and says it in a way that's fun and interesting for aquarium guests. There are lots of great jobs at an aquarium for an exhibits writer. Besides writing exhibit signs, you could write books about marine life for the publishing department or even be an online writer for an aquarium's Web site. Many exhibits writers at an aquarium start out with an undergraduate degree in some area of marine science or environmental studies and then go on to get a Master's degree in communications. It takes more than just a knack for writing to be a successful exhibits writer. Since exhibits writers work with a team of scientists, designers, and educators, it's important for a science writer to have good people skills. Organizational skills and the ability to meet tight deadlines are also key elements.
Aquariums are a virtual smorgasbord for the senses. The fish and animals alone leave most guests in awe. When you add audio/visual elements (AV), the Aquarium can morph into a unique experience which has the effect of transporting one into the oceans themselves. As an AV technician, you would utilize your skills to operate, maintain, and set up a complex, and diverse, array of exhibit and presentation AV equipment. You would be responsible for daily start up of all exhibit AV, and computer-interactive equipment. Requirements would include knowledge of complex electronic imagery and audio systems to be able to assess and repair problems. You would coordinate with the AV manager, or become one yourself, and complete other duties as assigned by the Director of Exhibits & Graphics. Requirements would also include also include a minimum of a high school diploma, or general education degree, and previous experience installing, operating, troubleshooting and performing basic repairs on a large variety of AV equipment and computer interactive terminals.
Aquariums are important for many reasons. They are wonderful entertainment venues which the whole family can enjoy, and there are usually many facets to that experience. Working in Public Relations is an important job for several reasons: positioning the Aquarium as a premiere cultural, entertainment, and educational attraction; maintaining good relations with media/press, and placing stories about Aquarium events, projects, personnel and collections; answering any public inquiries; promoting the Aquarium’s role in the 4R’s of Rehabilitation, Responsibility, Rescue, and Research. Other duties may include: managing internal communications; developing a marketing/media plan; research and development; being an Aquarium spokesperson; coordinating and supervising all on-site media interactions, and assisting in video productions; development/updating of internet Web site information, and intranet for Aquarium staff; editing and cataloguing of various materials; performing a multitude of tasks as the needs may dictate. Requirements would include a Bachelor’s degree in a communications-related field emphasizing public relations and writing, editing, verbal, and organizational skills. Preferences would include previous experience in public relations emphasizing media relations, with any animal-related work a plus.
Guest Programs Interpreter
An aquarium, and all of its fish and animals, is a wonder and fascination for most people. Once guests get a chance to take in the views, the first thought that pops in their mind is usually one that inspires a myriad of questions. Fish and animals can’t answer these questions, but an educated Guest Programs Interpreter can. This may be the perfect job for you if you have a passionate interest in nature, conservation, the environment, and especially aquatic and marine life. While answering a guest’s questions there is a unique opportunity to connect with others in a meaningful, and lasting manner, which can influence a guest to further carry the message of concern and stewardship for our oceans when they leave the aquarium. In addition to providing educational experiences for guests, you will be helping to create a fun and engaging experience for families, children, and adults. Whether at a touch pool, an exhibit window, or other interactive positions, many opportunities exist where you can enhance a guest’s experience. Extensive classroom training is provided to all members of Guest Programs, with specific concentrations on animal facts, and guest relations. A high school diploma and good communications skills are requirements for this position. A Bachelor’s degree in a related field of study is preferable, as is previous experience in customer service.