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What Is a Marine Zoologist?

by Scott Morgan, studioD

A marine zoologist studies animals that live in the water. The term generally is used interchangeably with marine biologist. The difference is that marine biologists study all aspects of the marine environment, from plants to protozoa, while marine zoologists concentrate on animal life. Marine zoologists usually hold degrees in zoology, marine biology or marine science.


Marine zoologists work with animals in all types of water environments, from oceans to freshwater estuaries. Ichthyologists study fish such as sharks and skates, while marine mammalogists study dolphins and whales. Some marine zoologists work with fisheries to help maintain biodiversity and sustainable seafood sources. This requires deep knowledge of species' population dynamics, reproduction and behavior. Some work in deep-sea ecology, studying how animals live in the extreme dark, cold and pressure of the ocean. Still others work in aquariums.

Working with Marine Animals

Marine zoologists study the biology of animals as well as their behavior. Studying the behavior of animals in the wild is known as marine ethology, which may require time at sea and on boats, swimming and diving, and recording and filming in an animal's natural habitat. More often, marine zoologists work in labs at universities or aquariums, studying captive animals and samples of wild creatures; seeking ways to save endangered species; or gauging the impact of human activity on animal populations.


Marine zoologists need a bachelor’s degree for entry-level jobs, but a master’s degree or Ph.D. usually is required for advancement, independent research and college teaching jobs. According to the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, aspiring marine zoologists need courses in biology, zoology, chemistry, physics, biometrics, mathematics and statistics. Marine zoologists also must know how to write scientific papers, so courses in English and writing are recommended. Courses in fishery biology, ichthyology, oceanography and ethology are vital to honing your specialty.

Finding Work

Marine biology and zoology are highly competitive career paths, particularly for teaching jobs and positions at aquariums, where advanced degrees are the standard. According to NOAA, the supply of marine scientists far exceeds the demand, as of 2012. Many marine zoologists work in fisheries and almost all get their start through internships. The Bureau of Labor Statistics set the median annual wage of zoologists and wildlife biologists at $57,430 in May 2010.

About the Author

Scott Morgan is an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered central New Jersey since 2001. He has worked with the Princeton Packet Newsgroup, US 1 Publishing, "Unique Homes Magazine" and Community News Service. Morgan also serves as a professional speaker and teacher. He holds a bachelor's degree in humanities from Thomas Edison State College.

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