One of the most common questions we get asked is “what should I do to work with marine mammals?
This is not an easy question to answer and many people we know have taken quite different pathways to get where they are today.
However, we are going to gear this blog post to whomever is just starting out and knows they want to work with marine mammals but aren’t completely aware of the possibilities in the field. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but may help guide you towards a rewarding career.
There are many children who still in high school or younger who have a passion for marine life and their parents want to help them develop it, so what opportunities are available to them.
Children younger than 16
There are few organizations that will allow children under 16 years old to volunteer in their facilities. One example is the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Discovery and Science (MODS), which offers a volunteer program to high school students that are 14 years or older. Volunteers at MODS are trained to lead tours through exhibits and educate the public about the local flora and fauna of Florida (which include river otters!). Even if no such opportunities can be found in your local area, this doesn’t mean you can’t expose your child to the wonders of aquatic and marine life.
Many zoos, aquariums, and nature parks have programs dedicated to educating children of all ages about animals. These can be in the form of a camp, or an interactive lab that can either take place at a location of your choosing or can be housed at the facility itself. Although they may not be specifically geared to marine mammals, children can begin to learn about all types of animals.
Young adults 18 years and older/ College undergraduate students
More than likely, you will need some sort of formal education after high school.
Here are a couple websites that you can explore and look at individual programs.
So what would increase your chances of getting a job? Here are some ideas and options to explore to increase your chances of landing your dream job while you are still in school or (soon) after you graduate.
Volunteering is a huge part of gaining experience, meeting people already in the field, and exploring what is the best fit for you.
Volunteer and internship opportunities in the marine sciences are abundant for young adults over the age of 18, therefore budding professionals can cater their selections towards more specialized interests. When considering work with marine mammals, experience can be generally separated into husbandry, field work, and laboratory work. Examples of husbandry opportunities include but are not limited to: rehabilitated animal care and training, open water training, and pre-veterinary experience. These are mostly offered through state and government agencies, non-profit organizations, aquariums, rehabilitation centers, and laboratories.
Field experience can be gained through participation in marine mammal stranding teams, beach surveys, and population and habitat assessments on boats. Marine mammal stranding teams are dispersed along the coasts of the continental US and all over the world. Most are always looking for extra hands to respond to a distressed or sick dolphin, whale, or manatee. Our Sirenian International President, Beth Brady began gaining field experience interning at Florida Fish and Wildlife for nine months before beginning her graduate work.
Getting involved in a laboratory setting provides infinite possibilities for marine mammal work. Students can get their feet wet in a range of disciplines, including genetics work, pathology, anatomy, and material science. Not all marine mammal work has to be predominantly out in the field – there are countless interesting questions that can be explored inside a lab!
Although the marine sciences are an exciting field, it isn’t the only avenue to a career working with underwater creatures. There are opportunities to work with conservation organizations where advocacy and political lobbying for species protection are the central focus. There are also many opportunities in the tourism industry with whale watching and scuba diving tours.
It’s also a good idea to look at some online options for networking that may assist you in internships and job search. Here are just a few we love.
Marmamm, a listserv that is all about marine mammals and conservation that was started by the University of Victoria. You can access it here: https://lists.uvic.ca/mailman/listinfo/marmam
This listserv not only emails you information about recent publications, but also contains information related to jobs and internships all around the world. Most internships are unpaid, but some offer lodging and food. These experiences are vital for up and coming marine mammal biologists. Not only do you get great experiences, but you can meet someone who could be a potential advisor or a job reference.
A second gem are Facebook groups such as Florida SeaGrant, Society for Marine Mammalogy Student, and Marine Biologist Network and job postings. These groups are chock full of networking opportunities, jobs, and fellow marine mammal enthusiasts.
While you are in school, attend as many conferences and events related to your field. Get involved!! You never know what interaction you may have that can help you further down the road.
We hope that this list has helped you start your marine mammal career!