Marine Mammal Scientist  What They Do

Just the Facts


Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists Career Video



Insider Info

dotMarine mammal scientists are in tune with the ocean and its inhabitants. They observe and study the habits of animals, collect data, train marine mammals, educate people about the mysteries of these animals of the sea, preserve sea life by preventing unsafe practices, and research and analyze data.

As you are paddling your surfboard enjoying the sun, and you feel a funny tickle on your toe, think about the thousands of creatures that live under the sea. Over 100 of these species are marine mammals.

Marine mammals are those that live in or near the sea, such as whales, dolphins, seals, manatees, sea lions, sea otters and polar bears. Whales and dolphins are sometimes called cetaceans -- mammals that spend their entire lives in water.

dotSome marine mammals are endangered and are placed in special programs in aquariums to be used in breeding programs to keep the animals in existence.

dotPaul Bradley is a marine mammal trainer at the New England Aquarium. He says there are only about 2,300 sea otters in existence, most along the California coast.

The 50-pound brown furry animals, whose bodies are covered with more than a million hairs per square inch, are slowly dying out. One reason for this is their coveted fur. Humans don't even have that much hair on their whole body!

dotMarine mammal scientists have the option of diving into many different careers. They love nature and the ocean and usually specialize in studying marine mammals of the deep blue sea. But they may also spend much of their time behind their desk collecting data pertaining to marine mammals.

Marine mammal scientists work in museums, universities, government agencies and veterinarians' offices collecting and analyzing data. Or they may take a trip to the "field," which to them is the sea, to observe marine life in action or to assist an animal in distress.

dotSince 1984, the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Massachusetts, has freed more than 40 large whales from life-threatening entanglements using a special technique developed by staff. The center has helped with disentangling other marine animals, like dolphins and porpoises, seals and sea turtles.

The principal technique involves attaching large floats, or kegs, to the gear entangling the animal. The floats add buoyancy and drag to the animal, making it difficult for it to dive and eventually tiring it out. The result is a relatively immobile animal that is easier to cut free. The "kegging" system is designed for easy release, should the rescue attempt fail.

Because of the endangered status of many of these animals, the successful release of just one animal may have a profound effect on the recovery of the population as a whole.

dotWorking as a marine mammal scientist can include the following careers:

  • Researcher
  • Field biologist
  • Fishery vessel observer
  • Laboratory technician
  • Animal trainer
  • Animal care specialist
  • Veterinarian
  • Whale watch guide
  • Naturalist
  • Educator

"People with widely varying physical abilities can work as a marine mammal scientist performing lab and computer work," says Dan Odell. He is president of the Society for Marine Mammalogy (SMM) and a research biologist.

"But sometimes it's necessary to work on the deck of a ship in 30-foot seas or climb cliffs to watch for dolphins in the water below." He says injuries in this field can come from accidents with heavy equipment, chemical spills or animal bites.

dotMarine mammal scientists may also study the effects of contaminants in the ocean. Contaminants can negatively affect marine mammals' reproductive and immune systems. Scientists may create and monitor programs to help make the contaminants in the oceans and the seas go away.

At a Glance

Study the mammals of the sea

  • Be prepared to get wet
  • You'll likely work for educational institutions or government agencies
  • The more education, the better