What Is the Difference Between a Marine Biologist & an Oceanographer?

Marine biologists and oceanographers have overlapping duties related to the ocean and ocean life. This article will compare and contrast these professions, and provide information on job outlooks, educational requirements, and job responsibilities.

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Comparing Marine Biologists to Oceanographers

Marine biologists specialize in studying organisms living in the ocean, while oceanographers specialize in studying the ocean and how it affects the environment. The key similarities and differences between the two are highlighted below.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary (2017)* Job Growth (2014-2024)*
Marine Biologist Bachelor's Degree $51,303 4% (Zoologists & Wildlife Biologists)
Oceanographer Bachelor's Degree $61,996 (Geoscientists, except hydrologists & geographers) 10% (Geoscientists, except hydrologists & geographers)

Source: *PayScale; **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Marine Biologist vs. Oceanographer

Both of these professions involve studying natural resources in marine or ocean environments, such as sea life and their ecosystems. Careers as either a marine biologist or an oceanographer require strong research and analytical skills, along with proficiency in scientific computer software given the data-intensive tasks. Marine biologists study various species in the ocean and how people can impact oceanic ecosystems. In contrast, oceanographers tend focus their studies on how oceanic systems impact other systems such as weather systems. However, both professions can study both sea life and ocean water at any given time depending on what their respective projects call for.

Marine Biologist

As a marine biologist, you will observe animals' behaviors and physical attributes and how they interact within their natural habitat, and even the ocean environment itself. Marine biologists primarily work for government agencies, but may also work for research and development firms or educational institutions. Your work environment will range from a laboratory to a research vessel in the ocean. Job responsibilities may involve gathering samples for research and analysis, observing various species on their reproductive patterns, interactions with other life-forms, and migration behavior. This career requires a bachelor's degree for entry-level jobs, with a master's degree necessary for more advanced positions. Those interested in conducting independent studies or working within academia will need a Ph.D.

Job responsibilities of a marine biologist include:

  • Examining the effects of human behavior on the ocean and its species
  • Creating and implementing methods to enhance breeding
  • Serving as an advisor to lawmakers on ways to ensure conservation of aquatic species
  • Sharing results of your research within the academic community and general public

Oceanographer

Oceanographers observe and analyze the ocean's chemical and physical components and its movement to determine how it impacts areas like climate change. As an oceanographer, you will observe and record ocean characteristics, such as tides and waves, develop and conduct research studies in the field, and perform laboratory tests on material collected from your research studies. Depending on your project, you may also study ocean life and ocean ecosystems. You will have the opportunity to focus on a particular type of oceanography: the biological and physical properties of the ocean, the chemical makeup of the ocean, or the geological aspects of the ocean's floor. Oceanographers may work for engineering firms or management, scientific, or technical consulting firms, and often conduct fieldwork. While entry-level positions require a bachelor's degree, many in the field pursue master's degrees or Ph.Ds. after completing their undergraduate studies.

Job responsibilities of an oceanographer include:

  • Utilizing satellite data to obtain information such as wave heights, wind speeds, and sea temperature
  • Monitoring ocean conditions like salt and gas concentrations and temperature
  • Working with various instruments to monitor and analyze activity of ocean species
  • Creating reports based on research findings

Related Careers

If you would like to become a marine biologist, you could consider a job as an environmental scientist, since both careers involve working with and protecting nature. Those interested in a position as an oceanographer may be interested in a job as a hydrologist, as both jobs involve studying and analyzing water.

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