Marine mammal trainers have a variety of job responsibilities. A typical day includes helping prepare their animals' food as well as manually feeding them. Trainers work with their animals to teach them certain skills for both public demonstrations as well as behaviors that help medical personnel treat the animals. They also give daily play time and mental stimulation to their animals to prevent the boredom that often accompanies captivity. The two most commonly trained marine mammals are dolphins and sea lions.
According to the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, Florida, the average salary of an entry-level marine mammal trainer in the United States is between $18,000 and $23,000 a year. More experienced trainers may make $25,000 to $40,000 a year.
Trainers working in amusement park or zoo settings make an average of $42,000 a year. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, these are among the highest-paid marine mammal trainers in the country.
Most full-time marine mammal trainers receive full benefits from their employers, including medical insurance. Some companies offer retirement benefits as well. Aside from traditional benefits, most marine mammal trainers love animals and truly enjoy their jobs. Trainers are able to form personal relationships with the animals they care for and often stay by the side of sick animals twenty-four hours a day.
Most marine mammal trainers posses a bachelor's degree. There is no specific marine mammal training degree, but most trainers major in either biology or marine biology. Other areas of study that help prepare a student for a career in marine mammal training include animal science, psychology or animal behavioral science.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there is expected to be keen competition for available marine mammal training positions in the next ten years. This is due to the fact that there are estimated to be more qualified applicants entering the workforce than available jobs. Because of this, experience will be a key factor in a candidate's job chances. Applicants interested in marine mammal training jobs would do well to get experience in some sort of animal caretaker role in preparation for a marine mammal training career. This could include jobs as zoo caretakers, or even unpaid volunteer positions. A little experience will go a long way toward a successful career in marine mammal training.
Experienced marine mammal trainers may find advancement possible by becoming the lead trainer in the facility they work in, or possibly even the head keeper in a zoo or animal park. Because there are so few positions of this nature, however, competition for those higher managerial positions is very strong, and only the most highly educated and experienced trainers will successfully advance to these supervisory roles.
2016 Salary Information for Animal Care and Service Workers
Animal care and service workers earned a median annual salary of $23,040 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, animal care and service workers earned a 25th percentile salary of $19,540, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $29,490, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 296,400 people were employed in the U.S. as animal care and service workers.