Marine Mammalogist Job and Career Description

Dolphin with a trainer
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Marine mammalogists are specialized marine biologists that study marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, seals, and sea lions.


The responsibilities of a marine mammalogist can vary widely and may include duties related to research, education, rehabilitation, training, and more. Research related positions are perhaps the most common for those involved in marine mammalogy. The duties of a researcher include designing research studies, writing grant proposals, collecting and analyzing data, supervising research assistants, and publishing study findings for peer review in professional journals.

Marine mammalogists routinely work in the field, conducting research studies in the ocean, marshes, and wetlands. They may utilize many pieces of equipment such as scuba gear, boats, traps, nets, sonar devices, video equipment, robotic instruments, computers, and traditional laboratory analytical devices.

The hours marine mammalogist works are often long, and they may be required to work evening, weekend, and holiday hours. They are frequently exposed to changing temperatures and weather conditions while completing research work in the field.

Career Options

Marine mammalogists can choose to specialize on one specific group of animals: pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, and walrus), cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), manatees, and other aquatic mammals (sea otters and polar bears). Some specialize even further, studying one aspect of one specific species (i.e., the behavioral interactions of seals).

Potential employers for marine mammalogists can include aquariums and zoological parks, governmental agencies (on the federal, state, and local levels), laboratories, museums, educational institutions, conservation groups, and military organizations.

Education & Training

A Bachelors of Science degree is considered to be the minimum level of education required for entry-level work in the field of marine mammalogy, with a Masters or Ph.D. being necessary for research work and other upper-level roles. Most marine mammalogists pursue a degree in marine biology, zoology, animal behavior, or a closely related area. There are a few collegiate programs that do offer coursework specifically in marine mammalogy (one particular program of note being the University of Hawaii’s Marine Mammal Research Program).

Regardless of the specific degree, an aspiring marine mammalogist pursues, they will find it beneficial to have a strong foundation of coursework in areas such as biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, and statistical analysis. Laboratory skills are also highly valued, as marine mammalogists frequently conduct scientific research studies that require analysis.

It is always a plus for a candidate to have extensive practical experience in the field, and this can often be gained by completion of internships during the college years. Many marine animal internship options can provide hands-on training and allow students to network with established professionals in their particular area of interest.

It is also advisable for marine mammalogists to pursue scuba certification and to develop strong swimming skills since these qualifications will allow them to conduct field research in direct contact with their animal subjects when necessary. Boating skills may also be utilized during a marine mammalogist’s career.

Professional Groups

The Society for Marine Mammalogy is a professional membership group that hosts conferences, publishes a peer-reviewed journal, and facilitates networking through an online membership directory and a job search site.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not separate the salaries of marine mammalogists from the data it collects for the more general category of zoologists and wildlife biologists. The median annual wage in 2012 was $57,710 per year ($27.74 per hour) for the category of all zoologists and wildlife biologists. The lowest paid ten percent of zoologists and biological scientists earned less than $37,100 while the highest paid ten percent of zoologists and biological scientists earned more than $95,430 per year.

The salary individual marine mammalogists earn can vary widely depending on factors such as their level of education, their level of practical experience, the geographic area where the job is located, their area of specialization, and the specific duties that their role entails.

Job Outlook

The BLS reports that jobs in the category of zoologists and wildlife biologists, which includes marine mammalogists and other marine scientists, will grow at a rate of approximately 7 percent over the decade from 2010 to 2020. This represents a slower rate of growth than the average for all professions.

The field of marine mammalogy is a particularly competitive one to enter, as there are many more interested job seekers than there are positions available. Candidates with extensive practical experience and a high level of education will have the best job prospects in this popular field.