How to Become a Marine Veterinarian

April 25, 2024


Reviewed by:

Luke Hartstein

Former Admissions Committee Member, NYU Grossman School of Medicine

Reviewed: 4/25/24

If you’d like to have a fulfilling career caring for aquatic animals, read on to learn more about how to become a marine veterinarian.

Most aspiring veterinarians realize their desire to join this profession because of their love for animals and science. While you may typically think of vets only caring for cats and dogs, vets can specialize in various types of animals!

For instance, one specialty is aquatic animals! This guide will go over everything you need to know about this area of veterinary practice, including how to become a marine veterinarian, what this job entails, how much you’ll get paid for it, and what skills you’ll need to succeed!

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Steps to Becoming a Marine Veterinarian

While your eventual career will undoubtedly be worth the extensive journey required to become a marine veterinarian, it is worth noting you’ll be in school for several years before you treat your first aquatic patient. Knowing this, you’re probably asking yourself, “how long does it take to become a marine veterinarian?”

It will take at least 10 years! Here’s what the journey will involve:

Step One: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

In order to get into vet school, which is step five, you’ll need to first complete a bachelor’s degree. 

You’ll be required to complete certain prerequisite courses in order to apply to vet school. Since the majority of these prereqs will be science and math courses, it’s recommended students pursue majors in marine science, biology, animal science, or biomedical science. 

Vet schools are highly competitive, so you’ll have to maintain a high GPA in all of your courses, especially your prerequisites, to be considered an attractive candidate.

Step Two: Decide Which Vet Schools You’d Like to Apply To

Early into your undergrad, you should decide which vet schools you’d like to apply to. While it may seem premature, there will be certain aspects of your application that will require early preparation, like your course prerequisites or the mandatory hours of experience most vet schools require.

You should look for programs that allow you to specialize in aquatic animals and can give you hands-on experience working with them.

Cornell’s esteemed aquatic animal science program is an excellent way to learn more about the fundamentals of marine health and work with experts in the field! 

Step Three: Gain Hands-On Experience

The majority of vet schools will require you to have at least a few hundred hours of direct experience working with animals. These schools want to know you have a genuine passion for helping animals, and that you’re eager to build the skills required to be an excellent veterinarian!

Depending on the school you apply to, these hours might need to come from a position in which you worked under the supervision of a veterinarian. You may also be able to include volunteer experience at animal shelters or work experience at pet stores as well. 

This is why step two is crucial! It’s better to have all the information beforehand, so you can make a checklist of everything you’ll need to complete prior to your application. 

Step Four: Write the GRE

Some vet schools will ask you to submit your GRE scores as part of the application process. Check your desired schools’ GRE requirements and build your study schedule based on these scores! You should always aim to surpass the minimum requirements to stand out as an applicant. 

Step Five: Complete a DVM

Gaining admission to a veterinarian school is one of the toughest parts of your vet school journey! When you reach this step, give yourself a pat on the back and get ready for a rigorous four years!

During these four years, ensure you maintain high grades, create great connections, and gain as much experience as you can working with animals, particularly marine animals.

Step Six: Obtain Specialized Training

After completing your DVM, you’ll have to complete an internship or residency program in marine veterinary medicine in order to gain the knowledge and skills required to practice on your own. 

These programs are highly competitive and typically take two to four years to complete.

Step Seven: Pass the NAVLE Exam

The North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE) is a licensing examination required to practice veterinary medicine. It is the final step in your journey to becoming a marine veterinarian!

What Does a Marine Veterinarian Do?

Marine veterinarians are largely responsible for maintaining the health and wellbeing of the aquatic animals under their care. Here are some of their general duties:

  • Conducting regular exams
  • Administering vaccines
  • Performing surgical operations
  • Treating injuries or wounds
  • Taking and reading X-rays
  • Training and supervising other team members
  • Creating treatment plans
  • Collecting tissue, urinal, stool, and blood samples
  • Maintaining records of all animals
  • Observing abnormal behavior
  • Prescribing and administering medication
  • Responding to emergencies
  • Educating others about marine animals

Depending on the type of organization you work for, you may perform different duties. Aquatic vets often work at zoos, animal rescue centers, and nonprofit organizations. 

Marine Vet Salary and Career Outlook

The average salary for veterinarians is $103,260 per year. Marine veterinarians’ salaries fall within this range but can be higher depending on where they work and their level of experience.

The job outlook for veterinarians is expected to grow by 20% within the next decade. While there are often fewer openings for large animal vets like marine veterinarians, they are still in high demand because the majority of veterinarians choose to treat domesticated animals instead.

What Skills Do You Need to Be a Marine Veterinarian?

Of course, the most fundamental skill you’ll need to become a marine veterinarian is a passion for animals. You’ll be working with aquatic animals every day, trying to keep them as healthy and happy as possible! 

But, passion alone won’t make you an excellent marine veterinarian. Here’s what will:

A Willingness and Eagerness to Keep Learning

Your education won’t stop after vet school. Veterinarian medicine is constantly evolving, and we are learning more and more about aquatic animals every day. As such, you can expect to keep learning on the job. You should be willing to constantly seek out learning opportunities to provide the best care to the animals you treat.


You’ll be working with living, breathing, and often very intelligent creatures! Did you know dolphins are considered to be the second-most intelligent animal on earth, after humans?

Accordingly, you’ll have to treat them with patience, compassion, and kindness!

The Ability to Make and Cope With Tough Decisions

Part of being an empathetic veterinarian is knowing when to make tough decisions like euthanizing an animal. It’s an unfortunate but necessary part of the job that ensures the animals have the highest quality of life and don’t suffer. 

You should be comfortable weighing out all of your options, thinking about the animals’ best interests, and have good coping methods to help you through tough days.

Attention to Detail

Figuring out what’s wrong with patients that can’t talk is challenging! You’ll need to have excellent attention to detail to be able to observe the animals under your care, notice symptoms or abnormal behavior, and use these observations to figure out a diagnosis and treatment plan.

FAQs: Becoming a Marine Veterinarian

For any remaining questions about how to become a marine veterinarian, read on to find your answers.

1. How Long Does It Take to Become a Marine Veterinarian?

It will take at least 10 years to become a marine veterinarian: four years for your undergrad, four for your DVM, and at least two for your marine veterinary medicine residency.

2. How Hard Is It to Become a Marine Veterinarian?

It’s difficult to become a marine veterinarian. Not only is vet school highly competitive, but so are veterinary residencies and marine veterinarian jobs! You’ll have to be focused, dedicated, and diligent in order to join this profession.

3. Are Marine Veterinarians in Demand?

Yes! Marine animals are usually only specialized in by a small percentage of vet grads, meaning they’re always in demand! 

4. What Degree Do I Need to Work With Marine Animals?

A degree in marine science or marine biology will likely equip you with the best knowledge to pursue a career as an aquatic veterinarian. However, other science majors like biology, animal science, or biomedical sciences may suffice as well. 

5. How Long Is Veterinarian School?

Veterinarian school takes four years to complete.

6. Where Do Marine Veterinarians Work?

Marine vets typically work in aquariums, zoos, animal rescue or rehab centers, or for nonprofit organizations. 

Final Thoughts

While the journey to becoming a marine veterinarian might be lengthy and challenging, it’ll be well worth the outcome! If you feel overwhelmed on your journey, just remember what our favorite Pacific Blue Tang fish once said, “just keep swimming!” 

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