Winter and Hope are the most well-known dolphins since Flipper and have done for marine biology what the television show JAG did for the Navy – make people want to join. Hearing about their miraculous progress, seeing their story in the movies, and becoming immersed in the plight of sea animals across the world will make some people want to become marine biologists. After all, what could be more fun than swimming in the ocean and helping all of the creatures there? Before jumping onto the bandwagon, you may want to know more about a marine biologist salary to decide if this is the correct career path for you.
What Does a Marine Biologist Do?
As you would expect, marine biologists work with all types of ocean animals, from the smallest single-celled organisms to the largest whale species. They study how these animals behave and how they interact with the environment. As humans continually pollute the world and over-fish the oceans, life for marine animals becomes more difficult. The role of the marine biologist has become crucial in the fight to keep many of these species from extinction.
As a marine biologist, you should expect to do lots of traveling. You will need to go to the rivers and oceans to collect data and specimens. Many learn how to scuba dive to collect data and see samples in their natural habitats.
Education Requirements for Marine Biologists
A general biology degree will take four or more years to complete. A person could get entry-level work leading to a career in marine biology with just this degree. However, most people go on for specialized training and go to school for an additional few years to earn a master’s degree or doctorate. This training brings the total education requirement to between five and nine years.
Where do Marine Biologists Work?
Marine biologists work on ships, in laboratories, on beaches, or in marshes. However, they usually have a home base with a public or private company and university. Local or national aquariums and zoos may also employ them, and they even work for the state and federal governments.
Marine Biologist Salary Information Across the Country
The United States Government Bureau of Labor Statistics does not keep individual statistics on marine biologists’ salaries probably because there is not enough data for the type of statistical analysis that the government does on job outlook. They do keep statistics on the broader field of biological scientist, but this seems too broad to be useful. They also track zoologists and wildlife biologists.
According to the government, the median hourly salary for zoologists and wildlife biologists is $29.95 per hour and $62,290 per year. They expect the occupation to grow at the standard rate of 8 percent, which is the rate that most career fields increase. This accounts for the number of people retiring or leaving the field. Again, this is the rate at which most any other occupation grows for similar reasons. However, funding for these jobs comes from the government. This means that budgeting is never guaranteed and can be renewed or revoked with each administration.
Another problem with this statistic is the fact that it is being reported as median and not the mean. The median is the center point of all the numbers in the list. Therefore, it is not an accurate representation of the highs and lows in the field. The mean or average would be a more effective number.
For example, if there were 50 people in the list, and the first 24 people all made $10 an hour, the 25th data point was $29.95 an hour, and the 26 through 50 all made $150 an hour, then the median is listed at that middle point of $29.95.
Other websites that collect data rely on self-reported information from people or data collection from job listings that reveal salary information. On some of these sites, the salary information is more specific but quite broad. For instance, some sites reveal that the average hourly wage is $21.30 and the average yearly salary is $44,311 for a person with a bachelor’s degree.
This is quite a bit lower than the government information, which means that marine biologist salaries may not be in line with the overall zoologist and wildlife biologist salaries. The salary range listed for a marine biologist starts at $16,640 and goes up to $189,800. So entry-level pay is far different from that of a top-end salary.
In general, a marine biologist who has earned a master’s degree or Ph.D. and had some experience can expect to earn between $56,000 and $66,000 per year.
Marine Biologist Salary
Here are some salaries organized by states.
Connecticut – $23.06 per hour and $47,696 per year
Maine – $20.64 per hour and $42, 927 per year
Massachusetts – $25.12 per hour and $52,246 per year
New York – $25.10 per hour and $52,210 per year
Vermont – $23.31 per hour and $48, 493 per year
Florida – $17.95 per hour and $37,329 per year
Georgia – $21.10 per hour and $43,897 per year
Maryland – $23.79 per hour and $49,474 per year
North Carolina – $20.28 per hour and $42,184 per year
South Carolina – $21.72 per hour and $45,173 per year
Texas – $20.70 per hour and $43,049 per year
Alaska – $23.08 per hour and $48,000 per year
California – $23.79 per hour and $49,489 per year
Hawaii – $22.95 per hour and $47,746 per year
As you can see, there isn’t much variation in reported or aggregated salaries at the mid-range. There are higher and lower salaries that aren’t reflected in this. A marine biologist with extensive experience may make over $100,000.
Choosing A Career
Some jobs seem fascinating from afar or in comparison to what we might be doing at the time, such as being a cashier or server. However, not all jobs are suited for you. The best way to figure out what kind of career you would like is to assess your personality. You can utilize some of the online personality tests to give you ideas, or you can assess your likes and dislikes and try to figure out a career from there.
You should look at the nature of the work involved in any career. For instance, if you do not like to swim or do not like to travel, you may not want to be a marine biologist since they have to do both. Besides, this kind of work is very heavy in academics. If you do not like to go to school, then this may not be the best career option for you since the higher salaries are tied to earning advanced degrees.
The working conditions and physical demands may be another factor to consider. While many marine biologists teach in classrooms and work in laboratories, many are also out in the field and exposed to all kinds of weather conditions.
You may not be able to collect the data you need on just sunny, warm days at the beach. Marshes have water and marine life, but they also have alligators, snakes, and very large bugs. Some research marine vessels go out on the oceans for months at a time.
Would you be able to leave your life for a few months to go out and do research on or under the ocean? In essence, if you don’t like being in the outdoors during inclement weather, or if you don’t like camping or being on ships, marine biology may not be for you.
The salary is another important aspect of any career field. If we all wanted to make as much money as possible, we would all become doctors, lawyers, and engineers. However, those careers are not suitable for everyone.
This article gives you a good idea of what the average marine biologist makes. However, salary is always dependent on your motivation and strategies for getting ahead in your career. Many top marine biologists earn over six figures but may have worked long and hard over many years to achieve this goal. If the median salary does not look appealing to you, then you may want to consider a different specialty or field altogether.
The ability to secure a job is another avenue to examine. Marine biology is a specific niche in the field of biology, and there may not be as many jobs around as there are graduates of the programs that produce them. When the job market has fierce competition, you will need to set yourself apart from others to get a job.
This might mean extra work or volunteering to help when an opportunity presents itself. You may want to search our internships in the field while you are in school to help get experience. Finally, you may want to start learning some of the skills that you will need ahead of time, such as boating and scuba diving. If you come to an employer with some of these skills in hand, you may find yourself ahead of the competition.
Marine Biologist Salary: Conclusion
Marine biologists dedicate their lives to the study and conservation of marine life. This is an important job as humans continually impinge on their territory, intentionally or unintentionally. The average marine biologist salary runs between $40,000 to $50,000, and the position often requires more than just a basic degree to get a job.
If all of this still sounds appealing, then a career as a marine biologist might be for you.
Featured Image: CC Wikimedia Commons via Wikimedia Commons with text, banner, and logo added.
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