Major Spotlight: What is a Marine Biology Major?
Oceans cover two-thirds of the earth's surface. And while their surfaces often look smooth, the oceans are teeming with life. Oceans provide animal habitat all the way down to the ocean floor. Since oceans are, on average, over 2.5 miles deep, this means that they contain 99.5 percent of our planet's livable habitat. Within that vast space, the oceans are filled with a huge range of microscopic organisms, animals, and plant life.
If you major in marine biology, you’ll learn how this life thrives in the oceans. You’ll study such subjects as the chemical makeup of water, the ocean’s geology, marine mammals, fish, plants, and biological habitats.
Marine biology majors study the creatures that live in the oceans. They also look at the habitats and ecological environments in which these organisms live.
Did You Know?
Marine biology majors study more than just plants and animals. For instance, they also study hydrothermal vents (geysers) in the ocean floor.
Are You Ready To...?
- Learn underwater photography
- Get your scuba certification
- Perhaps spend a semester at sea
- Do summer research off campus at a marine science research institute
- Complete an internship at an aquarium or natural history museum
- Write a senior thesis (long research paper) on, for example, coastal algae or sea slugs
- Do fieldwork to see marine life in its natural environment
- Study a lot of chemistry and physics as well as biology
It Helps To Be...
Open-minded and into water activities like diving. While many people start out in marine biology because of their interest in marine mammals such as whales, they end up studying much smaller creatures such as marine bacteria.
- Which areas of marine biology, such as the open ocean or the coast, does the program emphasize? Do they match your interests?
- What kind of access will you have to the ocean where you can do fieldwork?
- What sort of independent research will you be able to do?
- What sorts of labs will you have access to as an undergrad?
Did You Know?
You’ll need to understand chemistry to see how the physical world of the oceans affects the organisms living in it.
As a marine biology major, you’ll most likely take a course in marine ecology. In this class, you’ll focus less on the details of individual organisms and more on their relationships with each other and with their habitats.
You might cover a wide range of topics or only certain habitats and organisms, such as the polar seas, coral reefs, sea turtles, and plankton. The class will probably include field trips to local saltwater environments, lab work, and papers.