Ichthyologist: Career Overview
An ichthyologist is a biologist that studies species of fish, sharks, or rays. Ichthyologists may focus their careers by choosing to work in education, research, or management.
Ichthyologists may have a variety of responsibilities depending on the specific nature of their job. They may be involved with duties such as fish identification, behavioral observation, monitoring water quality in tanks, designing and conducting research, evaluating data, writing and publishing scientific papers, attending seminars or industry events, promoting conservation efforts, giving lectures, and presenting their findings to other industry professionals.
Ichthyologists involved in research activities may publish their findings in professional journals for peer review. Publication is particularly important for professors working at colleges and universities, since tenure is most frequently granted to educators who publish significant research in their field of expertise.
In some cases, an ichthyologist may travel to various locations (both domestic and international) to observe or collect specimens from oceans, rivers, and lakes. Open water diving skills and the necessary certifications are required for participation in this sort of work. Most positions in this field do not require travel, however, and many ichthyologists are able to work a standard 40 hour week.
A variety of organizations may provide employment for ichthyologists including colleges and universities, research facilities and laboratories, aquariums, aquaculture facilities, zoos, state or federal governmental agencies, conservation organizations, and marine parks.
Ichthyologists may specialize by working with a specific species of interest. They may also pursue one specific avenue such as education, research, or collection management.
Education & Training
Most go on to pursue a Masters or Doctoral degree specifically in the field of ichthyology. Graduate degrees are often mandatory for a candidate to be considered for positions in education or research.
Courses in biology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, statistics, communications, and computer technology are required for the pursuit of any degree in the biological sciences. Ichthyologists may also need to complete additional coursework in areas such as marine science, animal science, veterinary science, animal behavior, animal husbandry, and ecology to complete their degree requirements.
Those working as ichthyologists should be well versed in the use of computer programs and applications, especially with regard to processing scientific data. Scuba certification is also a plus for those hoping to do research in the field.
Marine internships are a great way to gain experience in the field while completing undergraduate studies. Many research organizations offer summer programs for aspiring marine scientists and some opportunities have a stipend or other compensation.
The American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists is one of the most prominent membership groups for those in this profession.
ASIH has 2,400 members worldwide. The group also publishes the quarterly Copeia journal, a leading publication in the field.
The Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) is another group that includes ichthyologists in its membership. The AZA has over 6,000 members worldwide at the associate and professional levels.
The salary for ichthyologists may vary widely based on factors such as the type of employment, the level of education completed, the geographic area where the position is located, and the specific duties associated with the position.
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not separate the salary data for ichthyologists into a separate category, the BLS does include ichthyologists in the more general category of zoologists and wildlife biologists. In 2011, annual salary ranged from less than $36,310 ($17.46) for the lowest 10 percent of zoologists and wildlife biologists to more than $94,070 ($45.23 per hour) for the highest ten percent of those in the field.
Individuals with graduate degrees or unique areas of expertise tend to earn higher end salaries in the field. According to the 2010 BLS survey data for zoologists and wildlife biologists, positions with the federal government tend to offer the highest level of compensation, with an annual mean wage of $77,030. Research scientists earned nearly as much on the salary scale, coming in with an annual mean wage of $72,410.
According to the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH), job prospects are expected to remain relatively strong for positions in research, education, collection management, public aquariums, and conservation groups.
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) projects that overall employment levels for all biological scientists will increase at a much faster rate than the average for all occupations, growing at a healthy rate of approximately 20 percent through 2018.