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Careers Working with Ocean Animals: Job Options and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an aquarium educator, underwater filmmaker or marine biology researcher. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degrees, job duties and training to find out if one of these careers is for you.

Essential Information

Working with ocean animals can lead to a career in research, employment at an aquarium, or documenting marine life on film. These occupations are closely related to wildlife biologists and zoologist. Educational requirements include a bachelor's degree, master's degree and a Ph.D., in addition to completing a scuba diving program.

CareerAquarium EducatorFilm & Video EditorsProducers & DirectorsCamera OperatorsMarine Biology Researcher
Required EducationBachelor's DegreeBachelor's DegreeBachelor's DegreeBachelor's DegreeBachelor's, Master's Degree, Ph.D
Other RequirementsMaster's Degree for advancementIndustry ExperienceIndustry ExperienceUnderwater TrainingSpecializing in Veterinary Sciences
Projected Job Growth* (2012 - 2022)*11% for all curators6%3%6%5% for all wildlife biologist/zoologist
Median Annual Salary (2014)*$51,280 for all curators$57,210$69,100$48,080$58,270 for all wildlife biologist and zoologist

Source: *Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

While most people probably imagine training dolphins or other marine mammals when they think of careers that involve ocean animals, there are a number of additional careers such as aquarium educator, filmmaker, and marine biology researcher. Other occupations include caretaking, rescue services and conservation.

Aquarium Educator

Aquarium educators organize and conduct lectures and presentations for school classes, research societies and other groups. When showing different ocean animals, they may use a hands-on approach, such as instructing students on how to properly pet a stingray. Some educators lead groups on excursions outside of the aquarium, including scuba diving trips and coastal hikes, to watch ocean animals in their natural habitat.

Underwater Filmmaker

Underwater filmmakers document the behaviors of various ocean animals, often as a way to obtain more knowledge about these creatures or to create public awareness. Filmmakers first choose the focus of their film, such as the migration pattern of whales, and then consult with marine researchers on where to best shoot footage. They might supervise a team of cameramen, crew members and researchers, as well as work with editors to organize footage and thus create a film.

Marine Biology Researcher

These scientists observe ocean animals and record their observations. Many choose to specialize in a particular animal, such as the sea turtle, or ocean region, such as the South Pacific. They may handle ocean animals to gather specimen samples and measurements or to tag them with tracking devices. Marine biology researchers then analyze their findings and write reports that can further educate the public.

Education

Both aquarium educators and researchers typically must hold a graduate degree, although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that smaller facilities may hire applicants with a bachelor's degree and ample experience (www.bls.gov). Marine biology degree programs can provide a broad knowledge-base applicable to these and other careers dealing with ocean animals. Graduate-level coursework in this field usually covers biology, marine mammal behaviors and marine environmental issues. Some students may choose to specialize in a subfield like marine mammal veterinary sciences.

Several employers in the film industry prefer experience over formal education. Nevertheless, investors hiring teams to create an underwater film may prefer applicants with an undergraduate degree. As of 2008, the BLS reported that most cameramen and editors possessed a bachelor's degree related to the technical side of filmmaking, such as cinematography. Operating underwater equipment requires specific training that may not be part of every film degree program.

Additional Training and Experience

Many careers working with ocean animals require scuba diver training. Community colleges and other organizations offer courses that can be completed in under a year. Programs generally provide training in equipment operation, safety procedures and other diving fundamentals. Some programs offer industrial training, such as underwater welding, which could be useful in some careers working with ocean animals.

Jobs in this industry can be extremely competitive, and previous experience can make individuals better job candidates. Aquariums and marine-based entertainment parks often have student internship programs that provide basic training in animal care. Some universities also offer fellowship programs that connect students with local marine research organizations. Volunteering with coastal animal rescue organizations can provide the skills needed for working with wild animals.

Careers working with ocean animals also tend to require significant patience and, in some cases, a willingness to travel. Strong business skills can help in obtaining funding for research trips, equipment and other expenses.

Career Info

According to the BLS, producers and directors can expect an average increase of 3% in job opportunities between 2012 and 2022, while film and video editors as well as camera operators can expect only a 6% increase. Average salaries for these professions in May 2014 were $69,100 for producers and directors, $57,210 for film and video editors and $48,080 for camera operators.

Curators could see an increase of 11% in employment between 2012 and 2022 and earned a median salary of $51,280 per year in 2014. Wildlife Biologist and Zoologist can expect a significant increase of 5% during the 2012-2022 timeframe. They earned an average of $58,270 per year in 2014 (www.bls.gov).

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