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Marine biologists study underwater organisms. Typically, an undergraduate degree in a biological science is required for non-research roles, while a master’s degree in marine biology opens the door to careers as a research technician or a teaching, management or product development role. A Ph.D. provides the widest range of research and development opportunities. While many people may envision swimming with dolphins with they think of marine biologists, there are many other interesting aspects to this career choice.
They May Study Sharks -- and Debunk Myths
Shark attacks receive a lot of media attention, and marine biologists work to debunk the myth that every beach could be the location of the next "Jaws" movie. Actually, scientists have found that there are usually 70 shark attacks annually, and six to 10 of them are fatal. However, somewhere between 20 million and 100 million sharks are killed each year. Marine biologists have also discovered steep declines in shark species around the world, especially along the eastern coast of the U.S.. As a result, some marine biologists are working on ways to protect sharks through education and international policies.
Darwin Was an Early Marine Biologist
Charles Darwin is best known for his theory of evolution. However, he performed significant research to advance the study of marine biology. During the 18th century, James Cook became the father of modern marine biology, and his work encouraged other scientists, including Darwin, to take a closer look at marine biology. As a result, from 1831 to 1836, during voyages aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, Darwin collected and analyzed a variety of marine organisms and sent them to the British Museum to be cataloged. In fact, the similarities that he found among fossils and existing species helped to shape Darwin's theory on natural selection and evolution.
For the Future, a Cool Underwater Laboratory
Marine biologists get to use state-of-the-art equipment, ranging from satellites to supercomputers to underwater vehicles. And French architect Jacques Rougerie, has designed the SeaOrbiter, an ocean-going laboratory that will allow marine biologists to practically live in the ocean. The $48 million dollar lab includes a four-car garage, which serves as an underwater hangar for submersible, remotely operated vehicles and a drone that can drive a distance of 6,000 meters. The lab also includes an observation post for studying birds and meteors. A wet lab allows marine biologists to perform experiments onboard and also transport organisms. The undersea quarters is a pressurized zone underwater that allows six crew members to dive up to 100 meters all day long without decompression stops.
They Unlock Medical Mysteries
Some marine biologists engage in drug discovery efforts. They search the oceans for medicines that can potentially be used to cure human diseases. In the past four decades, more than 30,000 new chemicals have been found in algae, sponges, microbes and other underwater species. For example, sponges are ground up in alcohol and then placed on cancer cells to see if the chemicals in the organisms will kill the cancer. The chemical in one sponge was originally used as a herpes medication before a stronger drug was discovered. Sea squirts are underwater organisms that have produced chemicals used for cancer treatments in Europe, and cone snails produce chemicals used as pain medication for patients with cancer or AIDS.
They Fight Alien Invasions Underseas
Marine biologists also study ways to prevent alien – or non-native – species, which are also known as exotic, invasive, non-indigenous or introduced species, from inhabiting and disrupting ecosystems. These alien invaders may be fishes, algae, bacteria, viruses, plants, mollusks or crustaceans. They are introduced to new environments in a number of ways. For example, they can be transported in the ballasts of commercial ships, and some organisms, such as mollusks, attach themselves to the ships and then fall off in the water when they reach their desired destination. Also, recreational fishermen throw earthworms, crayfish and other types of fish bat into the water to attract fish. Sometimes, these alien species do a better job of surviving than native organisms, which results in competition for resources, so marine biologist study ways to stop these alien invasions.
They Always Experience Variety
A day in the life of a marine biologist can be quite interesting, according to Allie Wilkinson, and may include waking up before daybreak, being stung by needlefish and pulling heavy nets. In "Deep Sea News: Things You Get to Do When You Are a Marine Biologist," Wilkinson says getting your clothes stained by squid ink, and having shrimp juice in both your hair and eyes, are also par for the course. However, the advantages of her career choice include sometimes finishing her work and leaving by 2 p.m., playing with a giant Pacific octopus, and always learning something new.
- Live Science: Short Shark Supply: Great White Population Low, Census Finds
- Marine Dynamics Shark Tours: Our Marine Biologists
- Deep Sea News: Things You Get to Do When You Are a Marine Biologist
- Popular Mechanics: A Spaceship for the Sea
- Smithsonian Institute Ocean Portal: Five Questions – Shirley Pomponi Medical Sponge Hunter