Marine Biologist Salary: Becoming a Marine Biologist (2023)

Name: Dr. James B. Wood
Job Title: Marine Biologist
Where: Bermuda
Employer: BIOS (Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences)
Years of Experience: 7 (post PhD)
Education: PhD
Salary: A Marine Biologist Median Salary is $51,957

Marine Biologist Salary: Becoming a Marine Biologist

For readers who want more info about the average marine biologist salary or careers in marine biology, you have come to the right interview. We recently spoke to Dr. James B. Wood, a marine biologist stationed in Bermuda, who discussed his steps in becoming a marine biologist.

James explained the qualifications for becoming a marine biologist, the average marine biologist salary in the academic world, and different options for students who are excited about careers in marine biology. He also gave a very realistic outlook for careers in marine biology and revealed some of the factors that can impact a marine biologist salary. James explained that careers in marine biology can be both challenging and exciting, but limited funding for research means greater competition for marine biologists, as well as less job security.

Marine biology may be a labor of love, but if you’re excited and determined about becoming a marine biologist, James says to go for it. Keep reading to find out how this successful scientist has shaped his own career in marine biology.

Marine Biologist Salary: Becoming a Marine Biologist (1)

(Photo Credit: Marine Biologist at Work, by NOAA’s National Ocean Service)

(Video) How much marine biologists get PAID

Marine Biologist Job Description:

One of the great things about my job is that, often, I don’t have a daily routine. Sometimes I sleep in; sometimes we are out until 2 a.m. in the rain, tagging squid because that is what it takes to get the job done. Overall, I work a lot. A 60-hour workweek is typical. During part of the year, I teach from 9 to 5 every Monday and Wednesday. I prep and grade for much of the rest of the week.

I also spend a lot of time online, writing grant proposals, filling out forms, etc. In the summer and fall, I have interns and we are in the field several times a week working with octopuses and/or squid. When we are doing field work, our schedule is at the mercy of the weather and when (and if) we find the animals that we are looking for.

Can you tell us about your steps toward becoming a marine biologist?

How to Increase Your Salary as a Marine Biologist.
Education is the key to increasing your salary as a Marine Biologist. There are degrees and certifications that will increase your salary and make you a more valuable employee. In this economic downturn, education is a key strategy for a successful career as a Marine Biologist.

Marine Biology isn’t the easiest career choice. I graduated with highest honors and a 3.97 GPA from the University of Florida. While at UF, I spent two summers as an intern, one at the University of Hawaii and one at the Smithsonian Station in Link Port, Florida. I also started publishing an aquarium magazine. I went to graduate school, in order to work with deep-sea octopuses, at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.

While a graduate student in 1995, I taught myself how to make web pages and started The Cephalopod Page, which has been online ever since. In 1998, we created one of the first online biological databases, CephBase.

I also volunteered to escape Canada for two weeks and help a colleague with her research on a reef squid in Bonaire – this work was eventually featured in the nature special Tentacles. I worked in Texas essentially as a post-doc for three years before I was able to escape and have been a junior faculty member at BIOS since Sept. 2003. My full CV is online here.

(Video) How much money can you make being a marine biologist?

Can you recall any memorable moments from your career in marine biology?

Well, I grew up in south Florida and I thought north Florida was too cold! That was until Dalhousie (in Canada) offered me their best scholarship, always returned my calls and even flew me up for a visit. On top of that, they had captured some deep-sea octopuses and had them waiting for me before I even started – how could I refuse that? What an opportunity!

I understood that it would be cold during the winter (in Canada), but not so much that life as I knew it would cease to exist! So there I am, in the middle of winter, with the only baby captive hatched deep-sea octopuses and no food for them! This was fixed by late-night plankton tows off a bridge; that was the only time I could actually catch amphipods (small shrimp like animals) and I couldn’t afford a boat.

No human had ever observed the species of deep-sea octopus (that I worked on) mate. This is biologically important as the males have a very large mating structure that no one had observed in use. And no human had ever observed them hatch out of their eggs – after a 450 day wait while the mom starves herself and broods her eggs. I was the first person on the planet to see both, this was my PhD work.

What advice would you give to those interested in becoming a marine biologist? What is the outlook for careers in marine biology?

If you look at my CV online, you might see a very successful young scientist. I’ve been on the Discovery Channel and National Geographic. I’m publishing papers in my field as well as popular papers; I’m involved in a number of successful web pages and outreach projects. I’ve made a life-changing difference for many students and have an excellent teaching record.

All of these things are what one would consider “success.”

What if I told you that at the same time, I’m struggling, I often don’t have a paycheck and I have absolutely no job security? What if I told you that this was fairly normal for someone my age at a soft money institution? What if I told you that a close friend of mine, who is very talented and also has a PhD, is living at home and working part-time?

(Video) $67,000 Marine Biologist Salary - Job Info

What if I told you that there is little money for basic science and there are many more qualified people than there are jobs? Or if I said that right now is a particularly bad time as the U.S. has chosen to invest in Iraq, instead of education, healthcare, and basic science?

With a shiny new PhD, young scientists are well-trained to conduct original research, interact with the public and teach, but very poorly trained for the economic reality they are about to face.

My advice for anyone that wants to be a marine biologist is to take a serious look at the number of jobs and the number of people trying to get those jobs; take a very close look at the economics of academic research positions. What happens to competition and prices when the supply of qualified people outstrips demand? Then realistically look at yourself and evaluate how much this potential career choice means to you. If you are still determined, go for it.

What is the average marine biologist salary?

The attractive and widely available posted salaries for faculty members don’t tell the whole story. I work at a soft money institution and my salary is completely dependent on grants and teaching. The U.S. has chosen to invest in Iraq instead of education, healthcare, and research. It is an especially difficult time to be a biologist.

My marine biologist salary is dependent on writing successful grant proposals. It takes me about two months to write a proposal. Let’s say the work one proposes to do will take five months. So for seven months of work, one would get paid for five months – but that is only if 100 percent of proposals are funded. On average, maybe only one in ten grants are funded! So writing ten grant proposals takes 20 months, the one that gets funded requires five months of work for which you actually get paid.

So for 25 months of work, on average, one can expect to get paid for five months. One’s official rate of pay might be 100k a year, which sounds attractive, but a fifth of that is not.

(Video) Marine Biologist Salary in the United States

Education is much better and covers the bulk of my marine biologist salary. But if a class is canceled due to low enrollment, and this does happen, sometime suddenly, I’m out of a paycheck for that period as well. There is no job security at a soft money research institution. There is no tenure here as well.

To become a faculty member at a research institution, you need to earn a PhD. This takes about five years of additional education after an undergraduate degree, four years. During this time you will earn an annual salary of $16,000. Then, if you are lucky, there is a post-doc period where scientists earn an annual salary of perhaps $30,000. Each step is a weeding out process and many people don’t make it – too many people are told “education is the way to go,” but there are too few jobs.

Faculty annual salaries are much higher, in the $45,000 to $125,000 range. But this is very misleading because if you don’t have a grant or a class you simply don’t get paid. Most faculty members I know work 60-plus hours a week and struggle to maintain a family and other aspects of normal life.

The good aspects of marine biology are the research and the teaching. If you truly love marine biology and want a career where you can be sure that you have a strong positive impact on people and that you personally will leave the world a better place than when you found it, marine biology is an option for you.

How does your salary compare to the average marine biologist salary? Find out with PayScale’s Salary Calculator.


Is it worth becoming a marine biologist? ›

Marine Biology is a great field of study. It provides a wide range of career opportunities. Marine biologists can find jobs in a variety of fields. They can work at colleges and universities as researchers, teachers, or administrators.

Is it hard to become a marine biologist? ›

It is a long and arduous journey to becoming a respectable marine biologist. To take up marine biology, one must choose subjects such as mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology during your undergrad years. A degree in marine biology is the safest way to reach your career goals.

How long does it usually take to become a marine biologist? ›

How long does it take to become a marine biologist? Marine biologists must complete at least a bachelor's degree, which takes about four years. Marine biologists who pursue master's degrees may take an additional two to three years to complete their education, and earning a PhD will take up to six years more.

What is the highest paid marine job? ›

10 Highest Paying Marine Biology Jobs
  • #6. Aquatic Veterinarian.
  • #5. Marine Archaeologist.
  • #4. Ocean Engineer.
  • #3. Oceanographer.
  • #2. Marine Researcher.
  • #1. Marine Resource Economist.
  • Conclusion.
  • Similar articles.
2 Oct 2022

Do marine biologists travel a lot? ›

Do you travel often? Yes I travel very often. At this point in my career, I travel almost every month for a meeting, conference, or some field work. My work takes me wonderful places all over the world but it requires being away from home frequently, and sometimes for long periods.

Do marine biologist have to swim? ›

Marine biologists do not have to be able to dive. Many roles are lab or office based and field work frequently involves surveys which are boat based or on the shoreline. You actually don't even need to know how to swim! Ofcourse, it is exciting to experience being underwater close to the animals that you are studying.

Is marine biology a fun job? ›

As a marine biologist, we get to study the ocean and all the animals and creatures that live in it. The most fun parts of my job are that I'm going to see something and learn something new every day and that I get to travel I get to meet wonderful people who are also excited about what we're doing.

Does marine biology require math? ›

A lot of marine biologists use a huge amount of maths, and it's getting more mathematical all the time.”

Do you need math to be a marine? ›

Basic Prerequisites. Any math skills that are necessary for basic biology and chemistry are necessary for marine biology. For instance, some marine biology tasks require preparation of solutions at different concentrations, which requires the algebraic skill of balancing equations.

What college is best for a marine biologist? ›

Best Colleges for Marine Biology
  • Boston University. College of Charleston. Eckerd College. Northeastern University. ...
  • University of California, San Diego. University of California, Santa Barbara. University of California, Santa Cruz. ...
  • University of North Carolina at Wilmington. University of Oregon. University of Rhode Island.

Do marine biologists go on boats? ›

A marine biologist's job may involve fieldwork, either in or on the ocean, a salt marsh, a beach, or an estuary, again, depending on their specialty. Marine biologists may work on a boat, scuba dive, use a submersible vessel, or study marine life from shore.

Who pays more Marine or Army? ›

If you're considering a military career, you might wonder which military service – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard or Space Force – has the best pay and benefits. At a basic pay level, the answer is simple. The military pays the same regardless of branch, according to your pay grade and years of service.

What job should I get if I love the ocean? ›

Marine biologist

Primary duties: Marine biologists study oceanic life in both natural and synthetic or controlled environments. They routinely collect specimens and data for analysis. They study the characteristics of various aquatic species to better understand them and how they factor into the ecosystem as a whole.

Is Marine Biology a well paying job? ›

While ZipRecruiter is seeing annual salaries as high as $210,000 and as low as $23,000, the majority of Marine Biology salaries currently range between $37,500 (25th percentile) to $208,000 (75th percentile) with top earners (90th percentile) making $208,000 annually across the United States.

What are the dangers of being a marine biologist? ›

Being a marine biologist may sound glamorous, but it can also be dangerous and physically demanding. Jobs on a research vessel require stamina to operate heavy equipment, dive into deep waters and examine marine animals.

What are 3 things a marine biologist do? ›

Research projects are the main focus of marine biologists, which include collecting specimens at sea, compiling data, and undertaking laboratory-based experiments. Key areas of research include migration patterns, underwater photosynthesis and the impact of human activity on coral reefs.

What do marine biologists do all day? ›

A Marine Biologist, or Marine Life Biologist, studies and researches the ocean and aquatic life. Their main duties include conducting experiments, caring for sick and injured sea creatures and monitoring the everyday functions of marine life.

Do marine biologists only study the ocean? ›

Marine biology is the study of organisms and ecosystems in the oceans and other saltwater environments. This includes marine plants, animals and other organisms, both vertebrate and invertebrate, in deep oceans, shallow seas and the laboratory.

How deep do marine biologists dive? ›

Dives and diving behavior vary: Some animals dive many times an hour, others sporadically. Most stick to depths between 200 and 1,000 meters, a region officially named the mesopelagic but better known as the twilight zone; others plunge far deeper. The shapes of dives hint at more than one function, too.

Is marine science a good career? ›

With a marine science degree, you can secure several jobs that allow you to study and preserve the ocean and its flora and fauna. These degrees can also help you pursue a career educating others about marine environments.

Are marine biologists smart? ›

Marine biologists are super knowledgeable professionals. Most of them have a degree or two, often a Masters and a PhD. They have spent an age in the university library; while the rest of the world was clubbing, playing football, singing, they have learned to appreciate the “wonders” of chemistry or a math formula.

Is marine biology stressful? ›

High. Marine biologists tend not to find their jobs stressful, which likely contributes positively to career satisfaction.

How much schooling do you need to be a marine biologist? ›

To work as a marine biologist, you typically need to: have a high school diploma or equivalent; complete a bachelor's degree in marine biology or a related field; and. complete a master's or doctoral degree in marine biology.

How do I get into marine biology? ›

Most marine biologist jobs require an undergraduate (Bachelor's) degree in (marine) biology or ecology, aquatic biology, animal science, zoology, botany or conservation biology. Many also accept degrees in a related field such as environmental science, natural resources management, geology or oceanography.

Can you do marine biology without chemistry? ›

AS and A levels: Biology is the most important Science you need to take, with Chemistry being a close second. Maths, Geography, Computing or Psychology can also be useful subjects. Whatever you choose, at least two Sciences are recommended if you would like to go on to study Marine Biology.

Do marine biologists get paid a lot? ›

The salaries of Marine Biologists in the US range from $13,292 to $356,999 , with a median salary of $64,435 . The middle 57% of Marine Biologists makes between $64,439 and $161,815, with the top 86% making $356,999.

Do Marines go to war? ›

The Marine Corps plays a major role as the first force on the ground in most conflicts. Today, Marines are stationed around the world at all times, ready to deploy quickly whenever and wherever needed. Total service commitment ranges from four to six years.

What is the age limit to join the Marines? ›

You must be at least 17 to enlist in any branch of the active military. The oldest you can be to enlist for active duty in each branch is: Coast Guard: 31. Marines: 28.

Can you have tattoos in the Marines? ›

Here are the key takeaways for the Marine Corps tattoo policy: You CAN have tattoos anywhere on your chest, back, torso, upper arms, upper thighs, and groin. There are no restrictions as to the size, shape, colors, or number of tattoos. There ARE restrictions on tattoos that are visible outside of a PT uniform.

What GPA do I need for marine biology? ›

MS Degree Requirements

A minimum of 30 total credits* is required, maintaining a minimum 3.0 GPA, with grades of B or better in each course. A minimum of ONE Graduate Seminar in the graduate program or in a related program.

Where do most marine biologists work? ›

The majority of marine biologists work for state and federal government agencies. These positions typically offer greater job security and more opportunity for advancement. Many work at private research laboratories or consulting firms.

What state has the most marine biology jobs? ›

1. Alaska
Total Marine Scientist Jobs:89
Average Annual Salary:$94,319
Lowest 10 Percent Earn:$54,000
Highest 10 Percent Earn:$163,000
Location Quotient:1.51 You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
6 Apr 2021

What are 5 things marine biologist do? › says that the duties for marine biologists include, “conducting species inventories, testing and monitoring sea creatures exposed to pollutants, collecting and testing ocean samples, preserving specimens and samples of unknown species and diseases, and mapping the distribution, ranges, or ...

What does a day as a marine biologist look like? ›

A typical day can range from hours of diving on beautiful reefs; sampling the ocean from boats and ships; working up samples in the laboratory; figuring out the results on computers or writing up the findings for publication.

What are 5 responsibilities of a marine biologist? ›

  • Develop and research the relationships of organisms in the marine environment.
  • Study characteristics of animals in the ocean such as their species interaction, diseases, movement patterns, etc.
  • Analyze the effect of human activity on marine ecosystems.
  • Collect biological data and specimens to analyze.

Who hires a marine biologist? ›

Where do Marine Biologists Work? Those who marine biologists work for are typically government departments and institutions at the state and federal levels. Marine biologists that are not government-employed can be found at private research institutions or universities.

What is the best job for marine biology? ›

Marine biology offers a diverse range of career opportunities including biomedical research scientist, marine biotechnologist, mammologist, ichthyologist (a type of zoologist that deals with fish), environmental consultant, veterinarian, aquarium manager, aquarist and so much more.

Who is a famous marine biologist? ›

While Rachel Carson, Eugenie Clark, and Sylvia Earle are only a fraction of a fraction of the many who have dedicated their lives to the ocean, the legacies that these three scientists have left, the young people that they've inspired, and the hearts that they've changed will leave a lasting impact of immeasurable ...

Which branch makes the most money? ›

The highest pays by branch are:
  • Army: $646.
  • Marine Corps: $750.
  • Navy: $750.
  • Air Force: $520.
  • Coast Guard: $805.
3 Oct 2022

Who's tougher Marines or Army? ›

The Marine Corps members are called marines, not soldiers, and they typically have to go through much more intense basic training than those in the Army do, creating a reputation for being some of the toughest and most highly trained fighters.

Who goes to war first Army or Marines? ›

The Marines are often the first on the ground in combat situations, leading the charge when conflict arises. They also serve on Navy ships, protect Naval bases and guard U.S. embassies.

Is Marine Biology hard? ›

Like other scientific careers, a marine biologist can expect tons of competition. Hard work and commitment are the only answers to success in this field.

Is it hard to get a job in marine biology? ›

While some of this may be true, there are also long days, travel to sometimes inconvenient places and frequently not enough income. Marine biologist jobs are hard to get, so to be competitive, you need to plan early.

What jobs study deep sea? ›

Deep Sea Marine Biologist

Deep-sea marine biologists study deep-sea animals and microorganisms along with their habitats. While some scuba diving may be necessary, these biologists typically spend more time in front of a computer than they do in the water.

Is it worth studying marine biology? ›

If you love water and sea life, a career as a marine biologist might appeal to you. Marine biologists study plants, animals, and protists in salt water and work for governments, universities, aquariums, businesses and conservation groups.

Can you make a living in marine biology? ›

Marine biologists earn an average salary of $66,877 per year in the United States. The specialties within marine biology can range in salary, with more technical marine biology roles that require extensive experience often providing better compensation.

What marine jobs pay the most? ›

10 Highest Paying Marine Biology Jobs
  • #6. Aquatic Veterinarian.
  • #5. Marine Archaeologist.
  • #4. Ocean Engineer.
  • #3. Oceanographer.
  • #2. Marine Researcher.
  • #1. Marine Resource Economist.
  • Conclusion.
  • Similar articles.
2 Oct 2022

Do marine biologists get paid well? ›

The salaries of Marine Biologists in the US range from $13,292 to $356,999 , with a median salary of $64,435 . The middle 57% of Marine Biologists makes between $64,439 and $161,815, with the top 86% making $356,999.

Is marine biology a fun career? ›

As a marine biologist, we get to study the ocean and all the animals and creatures that live in it. The most fun parts of my job are that I'm going to see something and learn something new every day and that I get to travel I get to meet wonderful people who are also excited about what we're doing.

Is a marine biologist a high demand job? ›

Marine biology is a highly competitive field in which the supply of marine scientists far exceeds the demand. Federal and state governmental agencies, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Coast Guard are important employers, but the number of positions is limited.

What are some cons of being a marine biologist? ›

Immersing yourself in the study of saltwater biomes can be a fascinating career. Some drawbacks may include competition for good jobs and potential safety risks when working at sea. Job security can also be a concern during an economic downturn when government grants that fund scientific research are cut.

What is the highest paying biology job? ›

Highest-paying biology jobs
  • Biochemist. ...
  • Medical and health services manager. ...
  • Pharmacist. ...
  • Veterinarian. ...
  • Physician assistant. National average salary: $105,627 per year. ...
  • Oncologist. National average salary: $192,522 per year. ...
  • Dentist. National average salary: $196,417 per year. ...
  • Physician. National average salary: $202,387 per year.

What are 3 things marine biologist do? ›

Research projects are the main focus of marine biologists, which include collecting specimens at sea, compiling data, and undertaking laboratory-based experiments. Key areas of research include migration patterns, underwater photosynthesis and the impact of human activity on coral reefs.

What jobs can marine biology lead to? ›

Careers opportunities in marine biology include:
  • Academia and education.
  • Science teacher.
  • Marine scientists and researchers.
  • Environmental manager or consultant.
  • Marine resource management.
  • Technical or laboratory management.
  • Marine parks or conservation.
  • Ecotourism or recreational consultant.

Is there a future in marine biology? ›

The future for marine biologists and ocean scientists is competitive, however growth will continue for experienced scientists as research centers, universities and other organizations conduct specialized experiments and manage current environmental issues.

Can you fail being a marine? ›

Yes, it is possible to fail basic training.


1. 9 Careers in Marine Biology You Should Know About // Careers in Biology
(Ocean Scholar)
2. A day in the life of a marine biologist
(Become a Marine Biologist)
3. Is a Marine Biology Career Worth it?
(Become a Marine Biologist)
4. 5 reasons NOT to become a marine biologist
5. 9 Cool Jobs in Marine Biology (part 2) // Careers in Biology
(Ocean Scholar)
6. How to Become a Marine Biologist (step by step) // Marine Biology Careers & Marine Research
(Ocean Scholar)
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