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Dolphins are marine mammals, with an intelligence, playful behavior and social structure that make them popular in marine theme parks, aquariums and research institutes. As with any captive animals, these creatures occasionally require medical care to keep them alive and thriving. Dolphin veterinarians earn their pay by providing that expertise.
Dolphin veterinarians require the same educational background that all veterinarians need. They must begin with a bachelor’s degree that emphasizes the sciences. Veterinary schools like to see applicants with courses in physics, biochemistry, biology, animal biology and nutrition, genetics, vertebrate embriology and zoology. Some math and liberal arts are also needed. Students must then obtain a four-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, which only admitted one in three applicants in 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many graduates then choose to enter a one-year internship. Those looking for board certification, which is required by all states to practice, must then undergo a three-year or four-year residency in a veterinary specialty.
Getting the Job
Jobs for dolphin veterinarians are very scarce since few facilities have these animals onsite. Those that do may only have one or two, requiring staff vets to tend to other marine mammals, fishes and invertebrates. A degree in marine biology can prove a useful prerequisite for the position. But more important is practical experience from interning or volunteering at a facility with dolphins, typically for no pay. Vets can begin the process early in their training, since institutes like the Dolphin Research Center, only require interns to speak fluent English and be at least 18. The internship also serves as a foot in the door of a highly-competitive field.
As of May 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the mean salaries of all veterinarians throughout the country at $44.51 per hour or $92,570 per year, with the lowest 10 percent earning $24 per hour or $49,910 per year, and the highest 10 percent getting $69.82 per hour or $145,230 per year. Those working in museums, historical sites and institutes that contain dolphins made a mean salary of $33.25 per hour or $69,150 per year, which was on the lower half of the national scale. Sea Grant Marine Careers reveals that as of 2009, the salary for an associate veterinarian with one year of experience in the marine field was lower still, at a median of $45,680 per year.
As part of their total compensation, dolphin veterinarians are entitled to the same benefits that their employers offer to all staff. These vary by sector, though the perks given by SeaWorld show an example. It provides medical, dental and vision coverage, as well as insurance for life, accidental death and dismemberment, short- and long-term disability, and travel accidents. Time off is granted for vacations, holidays and sickness. Other perks include a 401(k) plan, tuition reimbursement, assistance with adoptions and dependent care. Employees also receive free admission, complimentary tickets and family passes to any of the SeaWorld parks.
Aurelio Locsin has been writing professionally since 1982. He published his first book in 1996 and is a frequent contributor to many online publications, specializing in consumer, business and technical topics. Locsin holds a Bachelor of Arts in scientific and technical communications from the University of Washington.