Marine & Aquatic Animal Vet Tech Schools and Careers

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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 in 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 (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 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 mammals 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 15 percent between 2020 and 2030, according to 2021 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In other words, 17,100 new vet tech positions are expected to become available nationally during that decade.

This 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 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 being made in veterinary medicine, which requires 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, pet owner education, administrative duties, and other facets of regular veterinary care.

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. 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 $44,592, as of December 2021. SimplyHired (2021) reported that vet techs in general (i.e., across all specialties) earned an average annual income of $34,788.

According to another source, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2020) found that the average annual salary of vet techs working nationwide was $37,860. Those in the highest 10 percent earned $52,410 or higher, while those in the lowest 10 percent earned $25,520 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 sources of data. By illustration, Indeed (December 2021) found an average annual salary of $46,763 among marine technicians working nationwide. Indeed (2021) reported that vet techs in general (i.e., across all specialties) earned an average annual income of $30,641.

PayScale (December 2021), found the following percentiles nationally:

  • 10th percentile: $28,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $37,641
  • 90th percentile: $52,000

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), there is no society or academy which 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 the general vet tech requirements in their state. 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 be able to work with various members of an animal care team. 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. 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.

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: The first step involves graduating from high school or getting a diploma equivalent to a GED. Apart from having a love for animals, graduates must also have a strong background in biology, chemistry, and physiology. At this stage, some might even find it useful to voluntarily work in shelters, animal clinics, or other places that involve handling feathered, scaly-skinned, or furry patients.

Step 2: This next step involves completing an accredited degree program in animal science or veterinary technology that typically takes two to four years to complete. Students should seek out a bachelor’s or an associate degree program that is 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 off this education requirement if veterinary technicians have several years of experience.

Step 3: The third step involves passing the VTNE (Veterinary Technician National Examination). This test is offered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB). 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: After passing the VTNE, applicants must apply for state credentialing. 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: Candidates are also required to renew their credentials and maintain their 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. For example, Saint Petersburg College offers an associate’s and a bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology.

Saint Petersburg College

Saint Petersburg College offers an online bachelor of an applied 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 is made up of 73 credits. After completing the AS program, graduates are eligible to 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 will be able to 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 but 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
  • 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)

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

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 that are designed for maintaining aquatic animals and are 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 ($2,525); AQUAVET II ($1,515); AQUAVET III ($3,900)

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 are helpful in finding work. Students of marine vet tech schools may want to look to large aquariums or marine sanctuaries for opportunities.

For example, Sea Life Park in Hawaii and the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, CA provide internships for students studying to be marine vet techs.

Farheen Gani (Writer)

Farheen Gani is a freelance writer, marketer, and researcher. She writes about technology, education, and marketing. Her work has appeared on websites such as Tech in Asia and Foundr, as well as top SaaS blogs such as Zapier and InVision. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter (@FarheenGani).