What Is a Marine Mammal Trainer? (Definition and Skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published January 3, 2022

A career as a marine mammal trainer can provide a rewarding work experience for individuals with a passion for animals. It can give them the opportunity to interact personally with marine creatures daily and to create personal bonds with them. If you are looking for a career that provides an opportunity to work with marine animals, it might be helpful to learn more about what a marine mammal trainer is. In this article, we define what a marine mammal trainer is, describe what they do, list their skills and describe the average salary and job outlook for these professionals.

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What is a marine mammal trainer?

A marine mammal trainer is a professional that trains and cares for animals such as dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea lions. While they often work to teach animals certain behaviors, they are also responsible for feeding them and ensuring their health and wellbeing. These professionals often study and specialize in caring for a specific animal species or a group of similar animals. Most marine mammal trainers work in aquariums or zoos, although a few work with government agencies.

Related: 18 Popular Jobs That Involve Working With Animals

What does a marine mammal trainer do?

These are some common tasks for marine mammal trainers:

  • Training animals: One of a marine mammal trainer's primary tasks is to teach animals new behaviors and performance tricks. They often do this through positive reinforcement techniques, such as rewarding animals with food, and through communication via voice commands, hand gestures and whistles.

  • Diet preparation: Marine mammal trainers require extensive knowledge of the dietary needs and restrictions of the species they care for. They often spend much of their time preparing meals that imitate what animals eat in the wild and may modify foods if an animal is sick or malnourished.

  • Feeding: After preparing meals, marine mammal trainers often work with zookeepers and other professionals to feed their animals. They often complete this task several times a day and observe their animals' feeding habits to assess their health.

  • Providing exercise: Marine mammal trainers are often responsible for ensuring that their animals receive enough exercise to mimic their activity in the wild. This may include encouraging play, leading animals through routines or swimming with them.

  • Maintain records: Many marine mammal trainers are responsible for maintaining accurate records on the health and wellbeing of their animals. This can include recording their eating and sleeping habits, their energy levels, their age their injuries and any illnesses that they suffer.

  • Conduct habitat upkeep: Marine mammal trainers are often responsible for ensuring that their animals' habitats are healthy and that they imitate the animals' natural surroundings. This can include cleaning enclosures and pools, landscaping habitats, providing private areas for animals, installing water treatment and filtration equipment and providing lighting solutions.

  • Perform demonstrations and educational events: Zoos and aquariums often child educational events and marine mammal performances for the public. Marine mammal trainers often lead these events and may give presentations to audiences and provide demonstrations of their animal's training.

  • Administer medication: Marine mammal trainers are often responsible for administering medication and supplements to their animals, often in cooperation with veterinarians. They may use a variety of methods to administer medicine and may have to sedate animals during the process.

  • Treat injured or sick animals: Since they are very familiar with the needs of their animals, marine mammal trainers often assist veterinarians in treating them when they are sick or injured. This may include recommending certain treatments, accompanying the animal during procedures or conducting rehabilitative therapy with injured mammals.

  • Transport animals: Sometimes, a marine mammal trainer may have to assist with moving an animal to a new facility or transporting it for medical reasons. In these cases, they often work with other professionals to create wet or dry transportation methods that preserve the health of the animal and may help sedate it while is being moved.

  • Train other employees: Senior marine mammal trainers often help to recruit and train new employees for their zoo or aquarium. They often teach new staff how to feed, clean and care for animals and may teach them various training methods.

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Marine mammal trainer skills

These are some of the primary skills that are important for marine mammal trainers:

  • Stamina: Marine mammal trainers often spend most of their time interacting with animals and may spend much of their time swimming and walking. Physical fitness and stamina can help them provide appropriate care for the animals in their care.

  • Swimming: Swimming is an essential skill for marine mammal trainers that allows them to interact with animals in their natural habitat. They may swim with the animals while training them, while feeding them and when providing medical attention.

  • Patience: Training animals in new behaviors can sometimes be challenging and may require an enormous investment in time. Patience can help marine mammal trainers work continuously to find better training methods for the animals in their care.

  • Verbal communication: Marine mammal trainers often specialize in providing educational talks and training presentations to the public. The ability to communicate effectively can help them give compelling and informative presentations that raise awareness about marine mammals.

  • Collaboration: Marine mammal trainers may work with a variety of other professionals, including other trainers, veterinarians, administrators and zookeepers. The ability to collaborate can help them work with these professionals and provide good outcomes for their animals.

  • Extensive knowledge of zoology: One of a marine mammal trainer's most important traits is a passion for animals and a deep knowledge of marine zoology. This includes knowledge of their animals' habitats, diet, mating habits, social interactions and anatomy, as well as an understanding of the illnesses they may suffer from.

Related: How To Become a Dolphin Trainer (With FAQs)

Requirements for marine mammal trainers

These are some common requirements for marine mammal trainers:

  • Bachelor's degree: While a degree is not always necessary, many zoos and aquariums look for candidates with degrees in fields related to marine biology. These degrees can include zoology, marine biology, animal science, animal behavior and biology.

  • Work experience: Many organizations prefer candidates who have some experience working directly with marine mammals in a professional capacity. Many candidates gain experience by pursuing an internship with a zoo, aquarium or government agency.

  • Scuba certification: Since marine mammal trainers require strong swimming skills, many employers require them to demonstrate their abilities before hiring them. Many zoos and aquariums require their trainers to be scuba certified and may ask them to pass a rigorous swimming test.

  • On-the-job training: After completing an internship, marine mammal trainers often complete an extensive training course. This often includes working with senior trainers to learn advanced training and animal care techniques.

Salary and job outlook for marine mammal trainers

Salary for marine mammal trainers can vary extensively based on their experience, employer, specialization and location. Although Indeed doesn't currently have salary information for marine mammal trainers, it reports a national average base salary of $37,212 per year for all animal trainers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an increase of 33% in demand for animal care and service workers between 2020 and 2030, which is much faster than average.

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