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How Much Does a Marine Biologist Make

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A Career Where You Get Your Feet Wet

From massive whales to tiny plankton, marine biologists study all creatures great and small under the sea. Salaries vary greatly depending on if the marine biologist has an advanced degree, number of years in the field and where the job is located.

Job Description

If it lives in the ocean, it's important to a marine biologist. Marine biologists study the behavior, diseases and environmental conditions affecting life in the ocean, from how dolphins communicate, to the effects of climate change on schools of fish. They may monitor populations to look for changes in numbers of a species, initiate breeding programs for endangered species or recommend ways that industries, such as oil and gas drilling, can preserve habitat for marine life. The field also includes the study of the seawater itself as a habitat for the animals. Marine biologists communicate their findings in journals and at professional conferences.

Because of the wide variety of work they do, those in the profession might go by various job titles, such as fish and wildlife biologist, zoologist or aquatic biologist. Some specialize in subsets of marine life. For example, cetologists focus on marine mammals, such as dolphins and whales, while teuthologists study cephalopods, like as octopuses and squid.

Education Requirements

While your child may develop an interest in marine biology after a trip to the beach or watching SpongeBob Squarepants and his undersea buddies, becoming a marine biologist requires a serious commitment to science. Most in the field earn an advanced degree. Some colleges offer an undergraduate major in marine biology. For those in a school without that specific field of study, a major in zoology, biology or fisheries can be helpful. Marine biologists who want to conduct their own research or teach at the university level usually get a Ph.D in the field.

About the Industry

Many marine biologists work for the federal or state government. Others take jobs in private laboratories, non-profit organizations or consulting firms. Some marine biologists work for aquariums or zoos, while others choose to teach at the high school or college level.

As might be expected, most marine biologists work in coastal areas on either side of the country. With 2,860 marine biologists, California has the greatest number of these professionals, according to Florida, Oregon and Washington state have more than 1,000 marine biologists each.


Marine biologist salaries range from $31,000 to $98,000, according to PayScale. Those in Alaska, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts and Rhode Island earn the highest salary, according to

Years of Experience

Entry-level marine biologists with five years or less of experience earn a average of $49,000, according to PayScale, while mid-career professionals can expect about $51,000. Those with 10 or more years can expect to earn $60,000 or more.

Job Growth Trend

Jobs in marine biology are competitive. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects jobs for zoologists and wildlife biologists to grow about 8 percent between 2016 and 2026. That's about average for all jobs. Human impacts on the marine environment continue to grow, which could increase the need for marine biologists. But at the same time. employment is limited by the budgets of state and federal governments, where most of the jobs are.


Barbara Ruben has written about careers for and, as well as job and career articles for the Beacon Newspapers, a group of four newspapers for older adults.

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