Many people like to visit places like Orlando’s Sea World or California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium, but few know that the creatures residing in these aquatic environments are cared for by veterinarians and marine vet techs, among others. In fact, vet techs can play a substantial role assisting veterinarians in such facilities and may help them work with animals as varied as fish, mammals, octopus, reptiles and even amphibians, such as the Vietnamese mossy frog.
It may help that these types of vet techs have an interest in marine biology, but it is just as essential that they have essential vet tech training, which can consist of knowledge about cytology (the study of cells), microbiology, radiology, ultrasound and many other skills. As well, marine and aquatic vet techs will need to know, among other things, how to take stool and urine samples (think of marine mammals!), give injections and keep accurate track of medical records.
Marine and aquatic vet techs may also be tasked with taking part in research projects, looking for disease or illness in animals (which may not always be as obvious in marine animals) and working closely with other team members such as marine mammal specialists and veterinarians. As well, they may need to do daily checks on equipment and help in the lab stocking medicine and other pharmaceuticals. Marine vet tech schools and programs can provide students with many of these types of real-life opportunities that can be beneficial while actually working on the job.
Marine and Aquatic Vet Tech Career Outlook
Job opportunities for all veterinary technicians are expected to grow 52 percent by 2020, according to 2013 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Indeed, the forecast is that a total 41,7000 new vet tech positions are expected to become available between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS. This may seem amazing and indeed it may explain why recent classes of vet tech graduates can’t seem to fill the demand for vet tech help, according to the BLS. Unfortunately, job growth data specifically for marine and aquatic vet techs is not aggregated by the BLS, but students of marine vet tech schools and programs could certainly look to marine wildlife rehabilitation centers, educational sanctuaries and even colleges or universities for job opportunities or leads.
In general, the vet tech field is expected to expand for a number of reasons, according to the BLS. These include new advancements being made in veterinary medicine, which require the more sophisticated skills of a vet tech as opposed to a veterinary assistant. Additionally, the pet population in the U.S. is growing, which creates an increased demand for care. Finally, as veterinarians focus on their specific responsibilities, some of their other tasks are being left to the care of trained vet techs, particularly when it comes to lab work and regular care.
Specifically, graduates of marine vet tech schools may want to know that job opportunities for vet techs are expected to be strongest in rural areas. This may not sound promising for those interested in marine animal care. However, many of the organizations needing marine vet tech care could certainly be considered remote in the sense they are away from large and dense cities. Just consider the location of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island, Ga.; this facility needs a vet tech member on its staff to help care for sea turtles and other injured marine wildlife that come in, yet Jekyll Island, though populated, is a barrier island offering 10 miles of coastal beachfront.
Marine Vet Tech Salary
Pay for various types of vet tech positions will vary across the U.S. However, existing data seems to suggest that those working as marine and aquatic vet techs could make higher-than-average salaries compared to all vet tech working nationwide. The website SimplyHired notes that marine veterinary technicians earned an annual salary of $43,000, as of September 2013 data. SimplyHired also showed that aquatic veterinary technicians earned an average of $37,000 annually, but September 2013 SimplyHired information showed that vet techs in general (meaning across all specialties) earned an average annual income of $33,000.
Indeed, all these salaries are higher than the average yearly pay listed for vet techs in general, according to 2013 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. This BLS information shows that the average annual nationwide pay earned by vet techs working nationwide was $30,290. However there were variations: those in the highest 10 percent earned up to $44,030 while those in the lowest 10 percent earned as little as $21,030. Those with advanced education and more experience could potentially earn higher wages than others.
Marine Vet Tech Job Requirements
Graduates of vet tech programs, including those wanting to specialize in aquatic or marine vet tech services, do need to become licensed or certified to work in a specific state. No nationwide credential exists, which is why students should be clear on understanding the requirements in their state. Generally, graduates of an accredited vet tech program apply to take the Veterinarian Technician National Examination, a computer-based test offered through the American Association of Veterinary State Boards. A passing score is needed to be able to apply for licensing in a state. However, students may need to fulfill other licensing or credentialing requirements to be certified in their states.
Like all vet techs, graduates of marine vet tech schools will need to be excellent communicators to be able to work with various members of an animal care team and to effectively communicate lab results or specific care procedures for recovering animals. They may need to be compassionate, notes the BLS, to be able to care for weakened or sickened animals and they must be physically strong should they have to restrain an animal. (Even though many marine animals may appear small, some, like the male Harbor seal, can weigh up to 375 pounds.) A vet tech employment page for Sea World confirms the need for physical strength saying that its vet techs need to assist in some procedures for injured or upset animals, which can be very difficult to handle.
Marine and aquatic vet techs may be called in to work unusual hours due to an animal emergency or because special watch or care is needed. As well, some of these vet techs will need to be available on weekends and holidays, when round-the-clock care for some injured marine animals may be necessary.
Education & Experience
Vet techs generally need to complete a two-year associate of science degree to be able to seek certification and look for employment in the field. However, those wanting to work as marine or aquatic vet techs may want to look for other educational opportunities as well. They may want to seek a vet tech program offering specialization in marine or aquatic care. Also, they could work on a four-year degree in science, or do as Steve Nelson, a certified vet tech working at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, did. According to his employment bio, Nelson completed a Bachelor’s of Science in Hospital Management and Clinical Care from Saint Petersburg College’s School of Veterinary Medicine. After passing state requirements to become a certified vet technician, or CVT, he began employment with the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.
He also interned at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Generally, it seems the key to employment for any vet tech job, including as a marine or aquatic vet tech, is to be able to complete certification or state credentialing. However, internships and volunteer experience might also be helpful in finding work. Students of marine vet tech schools may want to look to large aquariums or marine sanctuaries for opportunities. As an example, Sea Life Park in Hawaii provides internships for students studying to be vet techs.