How Much Does a Marine Biologist Make a Year?

By Emily Greenhill Pierce · February 26, 2024 · 7 minute read

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How Much Does a Marine Biologist Make a Year?

A marine biologist can make an average base salary of $45,781 a year in the United States. This can be an exciting career choice for those who love the water — being in it or near it — and are curious about the mysteries of aquatic life.

How much a marine biologist makes depends on a variety of factors, including where you live, how much experience you have, and your area of expertise. Let’s dive into how you might pursue your passion for the sea, while keeping your finances afloat.

What Are Marine Biologists?

A marine biologist is a scientist who studies the life forms and ecosystems of oceans and saltwater lakes. They typically enjoy collecting data and patiently observing natural phenomena. Marine biologists can play an important role in protecting marine life and promoting environmental sustainability.

While some may imagine marine biology as a solitary job, working quietly in a lab or swimming silently alongside dolphins, it is not necessarily a job for introverts. Most marine biologists make money by collaborating with teams of people and sharing findings within a scientific community.

Some of the duties of a marine biologist can include:

•   Observing animals, microorganisms, and plants in oceans and saltwater lakes

•   Conducting studies on various species of sea animals and their ecosystems

•   Collecting samples of water, ocean plants and microorganisms for laboratory research

•   Performing laboratory experiments, using specialized equipment to assist their research

•   Administering medical care to injured or ill marine animals

•   Tracking migration and the reproductive patterns of fish and other marine mammals

•   Studying geological oceanography, to learn about ocean features such as ridges, trenches, and rises that affect marine environments

•   Discovering how to preserve marine life

•   Promoting environmental sustainability

•   Collaborating and sharing data with other specialists in marine biology

•   Composing scientific papers and reports for peers and the public

•   Giving presentations at educational institutions and museums on marine life

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How Much Do Starting Marine Biologists Make a Year?

Starting out, marine biologists can be paid hourly or be given a yearly salary.

The starting hourly rate for a marine biologist is estimated to be around $18.50 — definitely higher than the federal minimum wage.

As the field typically requires professional expertise and commitment to long-term studies, marine biologists are usually paid a yearly salary. An entry level salary for a marine biologist in the United States tends to fall in the $40,000 to $50,000 range.

Most professions, including marine biology, probably aren’t going to offer $100,000 salaries to newcomers in the field. But there are ways to turn your passion for the ocean into more competitive pay opportunities.

What Is the Average Salary for a Marine Biologist?

A typical salary for a marine biologist is $45,781 a year. Here’s a bit more information: According to, the average competitive pay for a marine biologist as of January 2024 can range from $35,034 to $70,061. But some marine biology jobs can pay well above $100,000 a year.

How much a marine biologist makes can rely on your degree status, experience, and area of specialization. For example:

•   The national average for an oceanographer is $79,562 a year.

•   A marine veterinarian, who cares for animals such as sea turtles, fish, and whales, can earn a yearly salary of around $113,418.

•   Other high-paying marine biology jobs include marine biochemists, marine ecologists, marine mammalogists, and marine geneticists. These occupations can pay between $80,000 and $100,000 per year.

While a marine biologist can traditionally be a hands-on occupation, it is viewed as a scientific profession vs. a trade job.

Working marine biologists almost always have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, with many acquiring a master’s or doctorate in a chosen area. Advanced degrees are often needed for higher paying positions. (These, in turn, can leave a job seeker with student loan debt.)

What Is the Average Marine Biologist Salary by State?

A big factor in how much money a marine biologist makes depends on where they live. This means that state by state salaries will fluctuate. Here’s a look at average salaries by state, arranged alphabetically.

Average Salary by State for a Marine Biologist


Median Salary for a Marine Biologist

Alabama $37,712
Alaska $42,501
Arizona $38,773
Arkansas $32,379
California $43,412
Colorado $41,136
Connecticut $37,953
Delaware $47,502
Florida $31,091
Georgia $35,132
Hawaii $41,119
Idaho $41,611
Illinois $37,945
Indiana $39,592
Iowa $37,746
Kansas $35,422
Kentucky $34,058
Louisiana $34,543
Maine $42,287
Maryland $45,973
Massachusetts $42,881
Michigan $34,089
Minnesota $39,565
Mississippi $37,623
Missouri $48,370
Montana $38,189
Nebraska $44,898
Nevada $40,186
New Hampshire $40,958
New Jersey $41,586
New Mexico $39,466
New York $45,915
North Carolina $35,516
North Dakota $41,902
Ohio $38,491
Oklahoma $43,480
Oregon $41,919
Pennsylvania $42,056
Rhode Island $38,827
South Carolina $36,266
South Dakota $39,602
Tennessee $36,749
Texas $41,406
Utah $36,721
Vermont $44,968
Virginia $46,686
Washington $50,714
West Virginia $32,481
Wisconsin $41,083
Wyoming $40,201
Source: ZipRecruiter

💡 Quick Tip: Income, expenses, and life circumstances can change. Consider reviewing your budget a few times a year and making any adjustments if needed.

Marine Biologist Job Considerations for Pay and Benefits

You can increase your salary range as a marine biologist if you are willinging to move to a higher-paying state, acquire an advanced degree, or specialize in certain areas of the field. But some factors that determine your salary are out of your control, including:

•   Funding/budget for your organization.

•   Type of organization, meaning private vs. public

•   Economic conditions

•   Demand for your skill set.

Since the majority of marine biologists secure a yearly salary, you may receive the following job benefits, among others:

•   Health coverage

•   Paid sick leave

•   Vacation days

•   Retirement plan participation.

While pursuing a salaried position as a marine biologist, make sure you understand how much you need to make to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. Try creating a budget and check out financial tools that can help track your expenses vs. your income.

Pros and Cons of Being a Marine Biologist

If you have a scientific mind and love the water and marine life, being a marine biologist could be a dream job for you. Of course, even dream jobs can have their downsides.

Here are some of the pros and cons of working in the field of marine biology


•   Traveling to new locations. Many marine biologists travel the world, with the oceans as their laboratories.

•   Working with a network of diverse people. Marine biologists work collaboratively, sharing data and consulting with a range of experts in the field.

•   Using state-of-the-art equipment. Marine biologists can have access to sophisticated, high-tech gear in order to further their studies.

•   Evolving your career. There are many ways to branch out into specialized fields in marine biology, so you can continue to excite your mind and, potentially, raise your salary.

•   Making a difference. Marine biologists have a chance to make an impact on serious environmental issues, especially in the areas of conservation and preservation.

•   Earning a good salary for something you love, especially if you pursue advanced degrees that open doors for highly paid positions.


•   Long, isolated working hours. A marine biologist can be assigned to a research position out at sea for long periods of time. Being away from friends and family can take an emotional toll.

•   Physically demanding. Out in the field, you may be subject to severe weather conditions — extreme cold and sweltering heat.

•   Dangerous conditions. Typhoons, hurricanes, and storms at sea can put marine biologists at risk for injury.

•   Emotionally draining. Some marine biologists, when they see firsthand how humans are affecting the environment, may feel powerless to reverse the harm, which can be upsetting.

The Takeaway

The average figure for how much a marine biologist makes a year is $45,781. A career as a marine biologist can provide a sense of adventure and helping protect the earth’s waters and aquatic creatures. It can involve travel and exploration which, depending on your outlook, can be a real plus, while allowing you to earn a living.


Can you make 100K a year as a marine biologist?

Some specialized marine biologists can command a salary of $100,000 or more a year, including marine veterinarians, marine biochemists, marine ecologists, marine mammalogists, or marine geneticists. The average marine biologist, however, may only earn half that amount.

What do people like about being a Marine Biologist?

Some marine biologists love traveling to distant places, working with marine life, meeting new people, and working toward having a positive environmental impact.

Is it hard to get hired as a Marine Biologist?

Finding a job as a marine biologist can depend on your field of expertise. Most marine biologists have, at a minimum, a bachelor’s degree, with many acquiring a master’s or doctorate. In addition, job opportunities will rely heavily on being able to relocate, if needed, to an area being studied.

Photo credit: iStock/Rainer von Brandis

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