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Careers in Marine Animal Training: Job Options and Requirements

Marine animal trainers require significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and other requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

Marine animal trainers have expertise working with mammals that live in or near oceans. They can prepare for the job by completing undergraduate studies in the biological and physical sciences, with emphasis on marine biology and ocean ecology.

Essential Information

Marine animal trainers perform duties that include teaching dolphins, walruses, seals, whales or sea lions to perform in educational shows. Job responsibilities can also include caring for the marine animals. They may work in zoos, aquariums or theme parks. Most employers require that marine animal trainers hold a bachelor's degree.

Required Education A bachelor's degree in biology, zoology, psychology or marine biology
Other Requirements Physical fitness, public speaking experience, communication skills; scuba diving certification is recommended
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 11% (animal trainers)*
Mean Salary (2015) $33,600 annually (animal trainers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Options for Marine Animal Trainers

Animal trainers usually use positive reinforcement to teach animals specific behaviors. In the case of marine animals, commands are often given in the form of a whistle or hand gesture and the reward is typically a piece of fish or other food. Seals, sea lions and other marine animals can learn a wide variety of behaviors that will entertain and educate an audience, but they also need to learn how to behave in ways that enhance their health and well-being. For example, an animal needs to learn how to submit to a blood test, X-ray or dental exam, as well as how to cooperate when being moved from one habitat to another.

Animal trainers need to keep accurate records about the diet and overall health of their animals. They often spend time preparing food for the animals, cleaning their habitats and maintaining an ideal aquatic environment.

A marine animal trainer may work with several different species of animals and can have a variety of job titles, including animal care specialist, mammalogist, keeper, trainer or naturalist. Entry-level workers are often called assistant or apprentice trainers and work under the supervision of more experienced individuals.

As a trainer gains skills, he or she may acquire a more advanced position, such as senior trainer, lead trainer or training supervisor. Workers in these jobs often oversee other trainers and may not spend as much time interacting directly with animals.

A curator of animal training works with other departments within a theme park or aquarium to design shows and educational displays and carry out the mission of the facility. This position may require as many as ten years of experience, several of which are performed in a managerial capacity.

Requirements for Marine Animal Trainers

Nearly all marine animal training jobs require a bachelor's degree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most zoos and aquariums require their trainers to have a degree in biology, zoology, psychology or marine biology (www.bls.gov). Students usually take classes in subjects such as oceanography, ecology and wildlife conservation in addition to acquiring a broad background in biology and other sciences.

Additional Desirable Skills

The International Marine Animal Trainers' Association states that trainers need to be strong swimmers and physically fit (www.imata.org). Many jobs require applicants to be certified scuba divers. Because trainers often make presentations for an audience or answer questions for park visitors, employers are also looking for workers with experience in public speaking. Trainers normally work in groups, so good communication skills and the ability to work as part of a team are vital.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an annual average salary of $33,600 for animal trainers. At that time, organizations in the management, scientific and technical consulting services industry paid animal trainers the most, with an average annual wage of $139,950. From 2014-2024, the BLS projected faster-than-average job growth of 11% for animal trainers.

In order to work as a marine animal trainer, it is important to have a strong understanding of marine biology and the ocean environment as a whole. Aspiring trainers can get the education they need by completing a bachelor's degree. Maintaining physical fitness is also essential for this career.

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