Subject: Getting into a marine life field

Jennifer D. Philips (
Mon, 27 Apr 1998 20:42:51 -1000

>I am a sophmore in high school and have allways been intrested in marine
>life. Recently I have been looking for a career that intrests me and I
>have been leaning tword working with marine mammals.  I was wondering if
>you could help me, or give me some tips on what the schooling is like to
>go into that field.
>	Any information you can give would be helpfull.
>						Thanks,
>					Laura Belokopitsky

Laura - 

I would like to refer you to the Whalenet archive for April 26, 1998, where
Ashleigh asked the same question.  Here is what I said to her, and I would
like to say the same to you as well:  

First, let me say that it is good that you are, and have been, thinking
about this already.  Many don't do that and graduate from highschool
wondering what they should do next.  So, let me congratulate you.
Regarding your plans, your interest in marine biology, I have a rather long
winded but informative answer, which I have offered to many other students
who have asked the same question.  My strongest advice is that, if
possible, you should first understand what 'marine biology' is by exposing
yourself to the day to day work it involves and learning what it is like to
be a scientist.  In other words, I believe that the single most valuable
move one can make when entering marine biology is to get real, hands on,
research based experience early on.  Through that, you can decide what
aspect of marine biology you are interested in, which is the first step.

There are at least two very different paths a person can follow when
interested in becoming involved with marine mammals as a career.  One is
marine mammal training, the other is scientific investigation.  (Of course
there are others, like government offices in marine mammal protection,
child education, etc, but these are the main career paths).  The education
and experience you must get are very different for each.  If a person
wants to train marine mammals at sea life parks, for shows and exibits, he
or she can do nothing better than to start getting experience now.  A
degree in biology, marine biology, zoology, etc is helpful, but not
required for positions in training.  Parks tend to hire people with
experience, especially people who have had beginning level positions in
their park.  Specialized education in animal training is available and also
helpful, such a Moorepark college in Southern California.  But there isn't
quite so large an emphasis on advanced education. 

The other path in marine mammal careers is research.  Researchers study the
lives and processes of marine mammals, both in captivity and in the wild,
write the results of their observations into scientific journals.     In
order to do this, one must go to college.  The  first step of course is to
get your bachelor's degree, in fields such as biology, marine biology,
zoology, psychology, and psychobiology.  I will talk about specific schools
in a bit, but generally the particular school you choose should depend
mostly on the quality of its program in marine biology, what researchers
work there, etc.  Your GPA in high school does not need to be extrememly
high, but you should do the best you can in classes and on entrance exams,
keeping informed of the minimal entrance requirements for the schools you
are interested in attending.  After undergraduate school (where you will
get your bachelor's degree), its on to graduate school, at which work
through your PhD is necessary.  I, for example, plan to continue research
with marine mammals, and will eventually (hopefully) get an academic
position at a university somewhere where I will teach undergraduates, do my
research, attend conferences, write articles in journals, and instruct my
own graduate students.  This is very challenging, but very rewarding and
very exciting. 

There are rare positions for marine mammal trainers at research projects,
and this is a good mix between training involvement and research
involvement.  Many researchers, especially grad students, work with and
train their own captive animals for research, and others hire a
professional trainer to do it for them.  This just depends on the lab you
end up going to . 

There are many many good schools in the US for marine biology studies.  As
I mentioned, Moorepark College has a great 2 year program in animal
training.  For research education, good colleges include UCSanta Cruz,
UCSan Diego, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, MIT (with Woods Hole
Oceanographic Institue), Cornell, Texas A&M, and some colleges in Florida I
don't know the name of.  Most people go to a different college for their
bachelor's degree than they do for their graduate degrees.  And MANY people
start out their first couple years in community college (I did!).  Your
first couple years in college are spent taking many core classes that have
nothing to do with  your marine biology interests, so its just fine to take
those classes at a 2-year community college and transfer the credits when
you go to the 4-year university.

Hope this information and advice helps you.  I would also recommend that
you check out the Society for Marine Mammology website, as they have some
great info about marine biology as a career as well.  Their URL is:

Good luck! 


Jennifer D. Philips

Marine Mammal Research Program
HIMB, University of Hawaii at Manoa
PO Box 1106			
Kailua, HI  96734
voice:  (808) 247-5063
fax: (808) 247-5831