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Marine Biologist  What They Do

Just the Facts


Insider Info

dotWhat comes to mind when you hear marine biologist? "A lot of people think of big whales, seals and dolphins," says Ed Seidel, a marine biologist. "But marine biology is a lot more than that."

Much more. While some marine biologists study whales, seals and dolphins, others in the profession research other aquatic life. They investigate salinity, temperature, acidity, light, oxygen content and other physical conditions of water to determine their relationship to aquatic life -- even plankton, worms, clams, mussels and snails.

dotLarry Harris is a professor of zoology at the University of New Hampshire. "Marine biology is biology with salt added," says Harris. "You can do many kinds of biology and be a marine biologist as long as you're working with marine organisms or marine systems."

Marine biologists work in laboratories and out in the field. Extended field trips are typically spent aboard small research vessels or underwater.

dotMost marine biologists work in colleges and universities, or are employed by the federal government. It's a small field and graduate degrees are generally prerequisites for securing employment.

dotVolunteer, says Seidel. "Take anything that comes up that looks interesting. You may not make any money but the experience is very worthwhile. Even if you can't afford it, borrow from a relative or make up for the lost funds while in school."

While in college, Seidel jumped at a volunteer opportunity that took him to Egypt. He spent a month one summer with his professor studying the Nile River and Aswan High Dam. Many summer camps are available and many aquariums offer summer internships to high school students.

dotVisit a marine laboratory, suggests Rick Gleeson, a research scientist. "Look at the nuts and bolts of the operation. Labs have different missions so check out those that match your interests and ask for a tour."

"Basic building and mechanical experience is also very helpful," adds Sue Lisin, a marine biologist. "There are machines and equipment to build and maintain, as well as fabricating tanks and various sampling gear."

At a Glance

Study all kinds of aquatic life

  • Field experience is essential
  • This is a competitive field
  • Start with a bachelor of science degree