About AquaFacts: AquaFacts are a resource for students who are looking for information on the animals at the Aquarium or other Aquarium-related topics. Here, we’ve compiled some of the most frequently asked questions that we’ve received about becoming a marine biologist. The answers come from dedicated and passionate marine biologists, both at the Aquarium and at other organizations. If you have a question about this career that’s not addressed in this page or the references below, please feel free to email our librarian.
Marine biology includes a vast field of knowledge. Only by getting started will you decide which direction your studies will take you as you work through high school, college and/or university. It is a good idea to take all the science courses available in high school and in your first years at university. These will include biology, botany, chemistry, ecology, fish biology, marine mammalogy and conservation courses. It will take a minimum of four years to get your Bachelor of Science degree. It will take two—five more years to get your Masters or Doctoral degree.
How do I get experience?
During your university years it is critical that you get experience working both in the lab and in the field. Summer and weekend jobs in biology will greatly aid you in creating a strong resume when pursuing a job following graduation. You should consider working or volunteering at a Provincial Fish and Wildlife branch; with the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans; or with a veterinarian, retail fish store, aquarium or zoo, wildlife rescue centre, or natural history group in your local area if possible.
What universities offer marine biology courses?
Several Western Canadian Universities have strong marine biology programs: Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Calgary, and the University of Victoria. In Eastern Canada, Acadia University, Dalhousie University, Memorial University, McGill University, Mount Allison University, St. Francis Xavier University, the University of Guelph, and the University of New Brunswick are recommended. It is advisable to check with your local university calendar as other Canadian universities do offer marine biology programs. American universities also offer marine biology courses.
Bamfield Marine Station, located on the west coast of Vancouver Island offers summer and fall courses in marine biology to upper undergraduate students. There is also a public education program for junior high and high school students, as well as for adult groups interested in marine biology.
If your interest is in the technical aspects of marine biology you may want to investigate the career choices following a technical program such as those offered at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Some of the regional and community colleges offer aquaculture and environmental sciences as well. It is also recommended that you acquire scuba certification, a valid driver's license and have boat handling experience.
What career opportunities are there?
A career as a marine biologist offers diverse opportunities. The salaries range greatly and the competition for positions is high. Biologists working on staff at Vancouver Aquarium are the Aquarium Director, the Director of Operations, the Director of Research and Conservation, Aquarists, Marine Mammal Specialists, Naturalists, and Managers, Coordinators and Programmers in the Education Division. Biologists here encourage you to be persistent in following your career goals as being a marine biologist is interesting and rewarding.
Check for a complete list of resources and tips on how to become a marine biologist at OceanLink.
Interview With A Marine Biologist: Sharon Jeffery
How Sharon got started in the field
Growing up, Sharon Jeffery knew that she wanted to be a marine biologist. This focus stemmed from a growing interest in biology during her secondary education, from family camping trips near the ocean, and spending her days swimming, snorkeling and turning over rocks on the beach to discover marine life. Sharon is now an Aquarist at the Vancouver Aquarium, designing and maintaining exhibits of local fishes. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Science degree in marine biology. At the Aquarium, Sharon enjoys the diverse duties of her job, from designing displays to scuba diving, and from collecting animals to talking with the media. Being wet and cold is a typical and dreary part of her job, but Sharon exclaims, "You get used to it!"
An average day for Sharon consists of checking the tanks under her care, performing maintenance duties to the displays, preparing the food and feeding the animals. In the afternoons, she is often in meetings, doing research, redesigning displays or collecting animals from the beach. In the future, Sharon plans to continue improving her diving skills and collect animals from the field. She also hopes to travel to South America in the near future and work with a fish researcher.
Sharon believes conservation and applied ecology, particularly aquaculture, are growing fields in marine biology. Working with marine mammals is a difficult field of employment because many people are competing for this line of work. For those interested in pursuing a career in marine biology, Sharon suggests that you spend some time on the beach, discovering and observing marine life. There are also programs that will take you on beach and nature walks and a lot of excellent field guides to help you identify and learn more about beach creatures.
Permission is granted by the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre for classroom teachers to make copies for non-commercial use. This permission does not extend to copying for promotional purposes, creating new collective works, or resale.