Marine Mammal Training and Research

What is a Marine Mammal Trainer/Researcher?

Often known as animal trainers, researchers, animal care specialists, keepers, or mammalogists; marine mammal trainers and researchers are all hands-on marine mammal professionals.   A marine mammal trainer works daily with large marine mammal species such as dolphins, sea lions, seals, and manatees- most often in zoo or aquarium settings.  Marine mammal trainers are responsible for the welfare, both mentally and physically, of their animals.  In working with animals such as dolphins, manatees, and sea lions it is important that trainers have a solid understanding of anatomy, physiology, animal behavior, nutrition, chemistry, and marine biology.  Since the knowledge base for marine mammal trainers is broad and encompasses many fields of study, it is recommended that prospective trainers have a background in a scientific field such as animal science, zoology, biology, marine biology or chemistry; although, there are endless degree possibilities that would provide the necessary education.

What type of education is required?

Most zoos and aquariums prefer trainers to have a degree in the life sciences or animal related subjects. Most zoos and aquariums prefer trainers to have a degree in the life sciences or animal related subjects. After gaining this education, most prospective trainers obtain a marine mammal internship relating to husbandry or as a research assistant and then move up to a trainer position. Once hired, trainers are required to go through an intensive training course to solidify their skills and techniques.

What is the expected salary?

Entry level marine mammal trainers can expect a salary of $18,000 – $20,000. The average salary for traine $31, 520 per year.

How can I prepare myself for a job as a Marine Mammal Trainer/Researcher while at NC State?

Students should pursue coursework and internship opportunities that focus on learning animal behavior, marine mammal anatomy/physiology, and courses that improve public speaking skills as trainers often interface directly with zoo/aquarium visitors. Students interested in Marine Mammal research should reach out to faculty and staff who are principal investigators in university labs, or to federal organizations such as the NIH or USDA to gain experience working in a research lab setting.  Students can review the Aquatic Opportunities listed on the VetPAC website to search for marine mammal experiences to engage in during summer and winter breaks.

What kind of experience is required?

Beyond standard schooling it is essential for potential trainers to have hands on experience within the field.  Since the field of marine mammal training and research is relatively small, it is important to build up your experience and knowledge of marine life before applying for a job (it also helps to build contacts within the field).  Facilities that house marine mammals strongly recommend that their applicants have 6 months minimum experience working with marine mammals as a way to ensure that potential hires are aware of the physical and emotional stress of the job, as well as basic training techniques.  Experience with most facilities can be acquired through volunteer or internship positions, although most are unpaid. Many facilities that house marine mammals require their trainers to be scuba certified and physically fit enough to pass a rigorous swim test.  This is because trainers have to be multi-taskers.  Marine mammal trainers are not just responsible for feeding animals and teaching behaviors, they are also in charge of cleaning aquatic environments, maintaining water quality levels, and assisting in physically rigorous lifting as part of medical procedures.  Public speaking skills are also highly recommended since many trainers interface directly with zoo visitors and have an excellent opportunity to educate the public.

Where can I find more information?

International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association: https://www.imata.org/become_a_trainer

Career  Opportunities

Visit the Career Resources page under the Marine Mammal Commision for information
on potential career paths and research opportunities: https://www.mmc.gov/resources/career-resources/