Just, uh, gonna say this about some of the discourse going on lately. Take it from someone who has worked WITH many aquatic facilities over the years, from Seaworld to smaller county aquariums: generally they require a bachelors degree in biology or animal psychology. Senior positions often require at least 5 years of job experience working in the field you are applying for.

Yes some facilities will hire off the streets and train you as you go, but there is a great deal of learning, book studies, and on hands training that occurs. Its not just put on this wetsuit and feed them fish, you actually need to be trained to correctly feed and be around the animals, both physically and mentally.

It wasn’t until the last few years that more specific degrees have come out. It is not required to have worked with wild animals, although I have always strongly recommended that associates and managers be aware of their wild animal counter parts because your guests are gonna ask questions. Read up, gain some knowledge, take a trip to see some wild whales, go snorkel on a reef sometime. Knowing how wild animals behave normally can sometimes point you in the right direction for stable captive husbandry (water quality, diet, exercise, etc).

Odysea: Senior Animal Care Specialist

  • Bachelor’s degree in Biology or related field required.
  • At least, five years of professional experience at a public zoo,
    aquarium, or similar institution. One year of supervisory or team lead
    experience with demonstrated advanced knowledge and experience in
    zoological operations and animal care preferred.
  • Ability to lead and work as part of a team in a constantly changing
    environment as well as individually, with a minimum of supervision
  • Valid driver’s license.
  • SCUBA certification.
  • Successful completion of all pre-employment screenings, including SCUBA dive physical.
  • No history of allergy related to animals or plants, which might interfere with the ability to work.
  • Ability to respond to emergencies on an on-call basis.
  • Willingness to follow all procedures and use of personal protective
    equipment when necessary, as this position can involve exposure to
    inclement weather, dust, potentially dangerous/unpredictable animal
    species, large machinery, restraint devices, and exposure to chemicals.

Seaworld: Discovery Cove

• Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, Biology or related field preferred
• 6 months dolphin interaction program experience preferred
• Bilingual strongly preferred
• Possession of a valid state driver’s license preferred

Georgia Aquarium: Assistant Trainer

• Four year degree in biology or related field; equivalent relevant experience may be considered in lieu of a four year degree at the discretion GAI.
• Internship or volunteer experience at an AZA/AMMPA accredited institution, or equivalent, with a proven track record of team oriented and professional performance.
• One year of aquatic animal husbandry and training working with marine mammals, experience in an AZA/AMMPA accredited institution, or equivalent, with a proven track record of team oriented and professional performance preferred.
• Knowledge of contemporary animal training techniques.
• Strong team skills.
• Strong oral and written communication skills.
• Valid State of Georgia driver’s license, or the ability to obtain one.
• Valid passport, or the ability to obtain one.
• Proficiency with Personal Computer (P.C.) hardware and contemporary software including Microsoft Office Products.
• SCUBA certification.
• Ability to pass departmental swim test, which includes, but is not limited to minimum requirements for treading water, breath holding, free diving and endurance.

DisneyWorld Animal Kingdom: Marine Mammal Internship

Required Education:
• Junior, senior or recent college graduate
• Biology, Behavior or related science major
• Minimum GPA of 3.0

Mind if I make a comment?

I am wondering if the source of people’s frustration and misunderstanding is coming from the fact “biologist” means different things to different people.

Is having a B.S. the only requirement to be called a biologist? Many would argue against that. I know of people with bachelor’s degrees in biology who run restaurants, are artists, work in finance, ect. Would you call those people biologists? I wouldn’t, and I don’t think they would either. They have the fundamental background required to start a career in biology, but aren’t really applying it.

I am 1 class away from a bachelor’s degree in marine biology and I don’t feel comfortable calling myself a marine biologist (apart from in humorous or joking matters), and I probably won’t until I have at least a master’s. To call yourself a biologist implies that is your profession. I am a student and do not have a profession yet.

Similarly, I wouldn’t call most animal trainers biologists. I would call them psychologists because from my understanding, that is mainly the tool you use when training animals. Having a biology degree certainly helps but the career path of an animal trainer is very different than somebody who wants to be a zoologist/marine biologist/ethologist, ect.

For me, and I think for many people, a biologist is somebody who studies living organisms, either in the field or in lab settings and applies the scientific method to answer questions. Having a biology degree doesn’t necessarily make you one, just as how NOT having a biology degree doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t be a biologist (though that’s more applicable to past decades).

SeaWorld killer whale trainers don’t really fit that description, whereas somebody like Ken Balcomb and Michael Bigg would. Trainers have a great understanding of the training methods and individual personalities of the animals they work with, but are they doing the things a biologist does? Are they designing studies to answer questions about the animals? Are they testing hypotheses using statistics? Publishing papers? Seeing as these things are a huge part of what biologists do (those in academia especially), and that I don’t know of many marine mammal trainers who do this (if there are some, please tell me!), I wouldn’t call SeaWorld killer whale trainers biologists. Psychologists, sure, but not necessarily biologists.