Marine & Aquatic Animal Vet Tech Schools and Careers


Many people like to visit places like Orlando’s Sea World or California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium, but few know that the creatures in these aquatic environments are cared for by veterinarians and marine vet techs, among others. In fact, vet techs can play a substantial role in assisting veterinarians in such facilities and may help them work with animals as varied as fishes, mammals, octopuses, reptiles, and even amphibians, such as the Vietnamese mossy frog.

It may help that these types of vet techs are interested 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 (no easy task with marine mammals), give injections, and keep accurate track of medical records.

Marine and aquatic vet techs may also be tasked with participating in research projects, looking for animal disease or illness (which may only sometimes be as obvious in marine animals), and working closely with other team members such as marine mammals specialists and veterinarians. They may also need 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 real-life opportunities that can be beneficial while working on the job.

Marine and Aquatic Vet Tech Career Outlook

Job opportunities for all veterinary technicians are expected to grow 20 percent between 2021 and 2031, according to BLS (2022) data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In other words, 24,100 new vet tech positions are expected to become available nationally during that decade.

According to the BLS, this may explain why recent classes of vet tech graduates can’t seem to fill the demand for vet tech help. Unfortunately, job growth data specifically for marine and aquatic vet techs are 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 opportunity boards.

In general, the demand for vet techs is expected to swell in the U.S. for several reasons. These include new advancements in veterinary medicine, which requires a vet tech’s more sophisticated skills than a veterinary assistant. Additionally, the U.S.’s pet population is growing, creating 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 regarding lab work, pet owner education, administrative duties, and other facets of regular veterinary care.

Many organizations needing marine vet tech care could 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. 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 techs working nationwide. The website SimplyHired (2023) notes that marine veterinary technicians earned an annual salary of $45,976. SimplyHired (2023) reported that vet techs, in general (i.e., across all specialties), earned an average annual income of $36,111.

According to another source, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2021) found that the average annual salary of vet techs working nationwide was $38,250. Those in the highest 10 percent earned $48,100 or higher, while those in the lowest 10 percent earned $28,370 or less. Those with advanced education and more experience could potentially earn higher wages than others.

It’s important to note that these figures also varied based on other data sources. For illustration, Indeed (March 2023) found an average annual salary of $54,233 among marine technicians working nationwide. Indeed (March 2023) reported that vet techs in general (i.e., across all specialties) earned an average annual income of $34,916.

Payscale (March 2023), found the following percentiles nationally:

  • 10th percentile: $29,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $39,142
  • 90th percentile: $55,000

Marine Vet Tech Certification and Job Requirements

Graduates of vet tech programs, including those wanting to specialize in aquatic or marine vet tech services, do need to become licensed, registered, or certified as vet techs, depending on their state of residence. According to the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA), no society or academy offers credentialing to marine or aquatic vet techs. Therefore, no nationwide credential exists in this subfield of the discipline.

Instead, students should be clear on understanding their state’s general vet tech requirements. Different regional laws define the scope of practice in this field. For example, New Jersey does not require their vet techs to be professionally credentialed; however, states such as Indiana or Tennessee require vet techs to be registered and licensed, respectively.

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 work with various animal care team members. They must effectively communicate lab results or specific care procedures for recovering animals. They 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. Some of these vet techs will also need to be available on weekends and holidays, when round-the-clock care for some injured marine animals may be necessary.

For areas that require certification, licensure, or registration, the requirements typically involve completing two to four years of postsecondary education at an approved institution, in addition to paying an application fee and maintaining the credential through the completion of continuing education (CE) hours.

Here’s a detailed step-by-step guide for how to become a general vet tech:

Step 1: Graduate from high school or get a diploma equivalent to a GED (four years). Besides having a love for animals, graduates must also have a strong background in biology, chemistry, and physiology. At this stage, some may find it useful to voluntarily work in shelters, animal clinics, or other places that involve handling feathered, scaly-skinned, or furry patients.

Step 2: Complete an accredited degree program in animal science or veterinary technology (two to four years). Students should seek a bachelor’s or an associate degree program accredited by the CVTEA (Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities), a branch of the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association).

There are both online as well as on-campus vet tech schools available. It’s also important to note that some credentialing entities may even waive this education requirement if veterinary technicians have several years of experience.

Step 3: Pass the VTNE (Veterinary Technician National Examination). The American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB) offers this test. Nearly every state typically requires this step for licensure, registration, or certification as a vet tech. In fact, national law mandates that schools must show their three-year, VTNE first-time passing rate among program graduates.

Step 4: Apply for state credentialing (timeline varies). As mentioned above, veterinary technician credentialing standards vary by state but typically involve submitting VTNE scores, paying an application fee, and sending official transcripts from a CVTEA-accredited program.

Step 5: Gain experience working with aquatic and marine life (timeline varies). Although there is no formal credentialing (or work experience requirements) in this vet tech specialty, gaining experience working with this patient population is an obvious step in pursuing this career.

Step 6: Renew credentials and maintain professional certification, licensure, or registration through the completion of continuing education (CE) hours. This can be done through qualified conferences, presentations, publications, online coursework, and other methods.

Education & Experience of Aquatic Vet Techs

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.

Saint Petersburg College (Bachelor of an Applied Science Degree and an Associate Degree Program in Veterinary Technology)

Saint Petersburg College offers an online bachelor of applied science program in veterinary technology and an associate degree program that can be completed either on-campus or online.

The BAS program comprises 120 credits, while the AS degree comprises 73 credits. After completing the AS program, graduates can transfer their credits to the veterinary technology BAS degree. The curriculum includes courses such as introduction to animal science; principles of animal nutrition; finance for the veterinary manager; large animal nursing; veterinary hospital management; veterinary hospital marketing; and dental techniques in veterinary technology.

Candidates who choose to complete the AS degree on campus can use the college’s new $11 million veterinary technology facility that features 32,000 square feet of labs, classrooms, surgery, and x-ray suites. Online students, on the other hand, will have better flexibility. Still, they will have to complete 280 hours of clinical experience in a veterinary facility (nearest to them) during each semester enrolled in the program.

  • Location: St. Petersburg, FL
  • Accreditation: AVMA-CVTEA; Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: AS (24 months); BAS (48 months)
  • Estimated Tuition: Lower division (Florida residents: $111.75 per credit; out-of-state residents: $386.90 per credit); upper division (Florida residents: $122.70 per credit; out-of-state residents: $425.79 per credit)

Tulsa Community College (Associate in Applied Science Degree in Veterinary Technology)

Tulsa Community College offers an AAS degree program in veterinary technology, providing students with a detailed understanding of the fundamentals of animal behavior, husbandry, and nursing care for several species.

Consisting of 70 credits, the program includes courses such as clinical calculations for veterinary nurses; veterinary anatomy and physiology; clinical pathology; principles of small and large animal care; microbiology and sanitation; large animal nursing; and veterinary office and practice management.

The program also includes practicum experiences. Graduates had a 52.7 percent first-time passing rate on the VTNE between 2019 and 2022. They will be ready to take up several responsibilities under the supervision of licensed veterinarians, including intensive nursing care, clinical laboratory procedures, radiology, anesthesiology, dental care, and surgical assistance.

  • Location: Tulsa, OK
  • Accreditation: AVMA-CVTEA; Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Part-time (36 months); full-time (24 months)
  • Estimated Tuition: Oklahoma resident ($116.55 per credit); non-resident ($341.55 per credit)

Mount Wachusett Community College (Associate of Science Degree in Veterinary Technology)

Mount Wachusett Community College’s associate degree program in veterinary technology is ideal for applicants seeking a highly selective program. This 73-credit program includes courses such as anatomy and physiology of domestic animals; veterinary clinical nursing skills; domestic animal behavior; veterinary pharmacology; domestic animal disease and nutrition; laboratory animal medicine and management; farm animal medicine; surgical nursing and dentistry; veterinary radiology; and veterinary clinical laboratory procedures.

Students in this program also complete two 120-hour internship rotations where they can intern in wildlife; emergency and specialty cases; aquatic medicine; exotic species; and farm animals. Graduates had a 58 percent first-time passing rate on the VTNE between 2019 and 2022.

  • Location: Gardner, MA
  • Accreditation: AVMA-CVTEA; New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four semesters
  • Estimated Tuition: Massachusetts residents ($25 per credit); New England regional students ($37.50 per credit); non-resident and international students ($230 per credit)

However, those wanting to work as marine or aquatic vet techs may also want to look for other educational opportunities.

College of Veterinary Medicine (Cornell University)

The College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University offers an aquatic veterinary medicine program, also known as AQUAVET. This program is co-presented by the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Two research laboratories are available for students to gain maximum exposure.

The school also has wet lab facilities designed for maintaining aquatic animals and considered among the best for undertaking aquatic animal health research.

The program currently consists of three courses (AQUAVET I, II, and III): an introduction to aquatic veterinary medicine, a comparative pathology of aquatic animals, and clinical aspects of captive aquatic animal medicine. These courses provide training in aquariums and captive aquatic animal medicine.

  • Location: Ithaca, NY
  • Accreditation: AVMA Council on Education
  • Expected Time to Completion: AQUAVET I (four weeks); AQUAVET II (two weeks); AQUAVET III (five weeks)
  • Estimated Tuition: AQUAVET I ($2,550); AQUAVET II ($1,665)

For more information about aquatic veterinary programs, visit the main aquatic veterinary programs page.

After passing state requirements to become a certified vet technician (CVT), these candidates can seek employment or internships in marine or aquatic environments. These opportunities and volunteer experiences help find work.

Students of marine vet tech schools may want to look to large aquariums or marine sanctuaries for opportunities. For example, the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, CA provides internships for students studying to be marine vet techs.

Jocelyn Blore (Chief Content Strategist)

After graduating from UC Berkeley, Jocelyn traveled the world for five years as an English teacher and freelance writer. After stints in England, Japan, and Brazil, she settled in San Francisco and worked as a managing editor for a tech company. When not writing about veterinary technology, nursing, engineering, and other career fields, she satirizes global politics and other absurdities at Blore’s Razor.