What Does an Ichthyologist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Catherine Song © The Balance 2019 

An ichthyologist is a marine biologist who studies various species of fish classified as bony, cartilaginous, or jawless. Their work includes the study of fish history, behavior, reproductive habits, environment, and growth patterns.

Ichthyologists may work in laboratories, museums, universities, zoos, companies, or government facilities. A majority spend their time out in the field, studying fish in their own environment.

They may specialize by working with a specific species of interest. They may also pursue one particular avenue, such as education, research, or collection management.

Ichthyologist Duties & Responsibilities

Ichthyologists may have a variety of responsibilities, depending on the specific nature of their job. Their duties may include:

  • Identifying fish
  • Observing behavior
  • 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
  • Presenting findings to other industry professionals

Ichthyologists involved in research activities may publish their findings in professional journals for peer review. Publishing is particularly important for professors working at colleges and universities, as tenure is most frequently granted to educators who publish significant research in their field of expertise.

Ichthyologist Salary

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.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not provide specific data, such as salary, for ichthyologists, but does include the profession in the zoologists and wildlife biologists category:

  • Median Annual Salary: $62,290 ($29.95/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $99,700 ($47.93/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $39,620 ($19.05/hour)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017

Education, Training, & Certification

To become an ichthyologist, you must have the necessary education, experience, and certifications:

  • College degrees: Those starting out in the field typically complete a bachelor's degree in zoology or marine biology. Most go on to pursue a master's 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.
  • Coursework: Required courses typically include biology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, statistics, communications, and computer technology for the pursuit of any degree in the biological sciences. Additional coursework that may be required includes marine science, animal science, veterinary science, animal behavior, animal husbandry, and ecology.
  • Internships: Marine internships can help you gain practical experience in the field while completing your undergraduate studies. Many research organizations, such as the NOAA Fisheries, offer summer programs for aspiring marine scientists, and some opportunities have a stipend or other compensation.
  • Certifications: Open-water diving skills and the necessary certifications are required for working in the field. The National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI Worldwide) offers diving certifications.

Ichthyologist Skills & Competencies

To succeed in this field, you should have a strong interest in marine life, as well as the following:

  • Research skills to perform field observations and sampling, as well as specimen collection and preservation
  • Laboratory skills such as dissection and microscopy
  • Computer skills for processing scientific data
  • Interpersonal skills involving networking and collaborating with other industry members, as well as teaching university-level courses
  • Verbal and written communication skills to clearly and accurately communicate research findings to other team members, as well as in written reports and publications

Job Outlook

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 U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects that the overall employment level for all biological scientists is expected to grow 8 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Work Environment

Depending on their business and interests, ichthyologists may work in classrooms, business offices, laboratories, or zoos. In some cases, they may travel to various locations—both domestic and international—to observe or collect specimens from oceans, rivers, and lakes.

When working in the field, the environment can be unpredictable. Therefore, it's important to take the right precautions to minimize injury.

Work Schedule

Most positions in this field do not require travel. Thus, many ichthyologists are able to work a standard 40-hour week.

Comparing Similar Jobs

Those interested in fish science may also want to consider these careers:

Source: Payscale.com, 2019