Marine mammal trainers train animals such as dolphins, sea lions and seals. They work in zoos, aquariums and other wildlife facilities. They also care for their animals by exercising them, monitoring their diets and socializing them. Besides training duties, marine mammal trainers play with their animals and provide companionship to them, while keeping a keen eye out for possible health problems and behavioral changes that could signal the need for veterinary care.
Marine mammal trainers are usually animal lovers and take much pleasure from their jobs. However, some of their duties may be unpleasant and even dangerous. Animals such as dolphins, sea lions and killer whales sometimes injure their trainers. Trainers have a higher incidence of on-the-job injuries than most other professions. In addition, marine mammal trainers must do physically exhausting work such as lifting heavy supplies and bending repeatedly. They also must work outside in all kinds of inclement weather. They may work long or irregular hours, especially in zoos or aquariums. Animals must be fed and trained daily, including weekends or holidays. When an animal under their charge is sick, sometimes trainers must attend to it twenty-four hours a day.
Many marine mammal trainer jobs, especially in zoos and aquariums, require at least a bachelor's degree. Most zoos require their animals trainers to hold a degree in a marine biology, biology or another similar degree. Additionally, most employers prefer their trainers to have previous experience working with animals. Experience as a zookeeper or unpaid zoo volunteer can satisfy this requirement and is a good way to enter the field.
Skilled and experienced marine mammal trainers may receive promotion to head trainer or might advance to head curator at a zoo or aquarium. Successful candidates must be very experienced and possibly possess an advanced degree in marine biology. However, these job openings are few and far between, and competition for them is fierce.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for an animal trainer working in the United States was $31,030 of May 2013. The bottom 10 percent of trainers earned $17,570 annually or less, while the top 10 percent made $52,460 per year or more.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor predicts that jobs for marine mammal trainers will grow more slowly than most other occupations between 2012 and 2022. As more graduates enter the work force with degrees in marine biology or biology, they are expected to outnumber the jobs available. As such, competition for available jobs will be strong. Previous experience working with animals, even if only as a volunteer, will confer an advantage in the job market.
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