Aquafacts / Whale Biologist

About AquaFacts

AquaFacts contain information on the Aquarium animals or other Aquarium-related topics. We’ve compiled the most popular questions about becoming a whale biologist. Please email our librarian for other inquiries.

Quick info

4 yrs

Minimum time to get Bachelor's degree

2-6 yrs

Time to get Master's or Doctoral degree


Canadian universities offer courses


Minimum required degree


Graduate degree

How do I gain experience in the field?

If you are interested in volunteering or having a paid research assistant position, you should write to an individual whale researcher (including graduate students). Their needs vary greatly. Although they are often involved in field work with whales and dolphins, many hours are spent analyzing data in the office or lab, and their field work is time consuming and difficult due to the inaccessibility of the animal species they are studying. The work is frequently arduous and tedious, so you should consider this aspect when thinking about your career options.

Do I need any special licenses or certification to become a whale biologist?

It is recommended that you acquire scuba certification, a valid driver's license, a boat operator’s license, and obtain as much boat handling experience as possible.

How did you get started in the field?

Interview with a Marine Mammal Scientist: Lance Barret-Lennard, Ph.D.

After university I took some time out from academia to work as a lighthouse keeper. I became interested in the killer whales that we were seeing and began volunteering with Michael Bigg and John Ford, using fixed hydrophones and photo-identification. After this experience I decided to go to graduate school and take a more serious look at my research interests.

What is the best part of your job?

The field work is my favorite, though I also enjoy my time spent in the lab. The research is like a detective story and I am uncovering pieces of a mystery.

What are your latest projects?

Currently, we are studying the mating patterns in transient whales and the mystery of offshore killer whales. Another project involves a three-year study off of the Aleutian Islands to identify killer whales in Western Alaska that have not been recorded. We are using photo-identification, acoustic analysis and genetic testing to identify and categorize the whales.

How can the public be involved in your research?

Our department has some exciting projects like the Killer Whale Adoption Program and the Sightings Network. The adoption program allows the public to adopt a wild killer whale and all contributions go directly to the research and conservation of killer whales in the wild. The Sightings Network has been set up to allow the public to report sightings of dolphins, whales and porpoises. This information helps researchers to get data on these animals’ distribution and abundance, which will help support conservation efforts.

Marine Mammal Research Staff, Vancouver Aquarium.
The Society for Marine Mammalogy