What Does an Aquarist Do? Role, Skills and Work Environment

Updated 19 February 2023

If you've got a passion for marine species and nature, you may like working as an aquarist. These animal health specialists are responsible for the care and well-being of diverse sea species at various interior facilities and diving out in the field to conduct research and collect new specimens.

Thoroughly understanding what the role entails can help you decide if this is the most suitable career path for you. In this post, we answer the question, 'What does an aquarist do?', discuss the skills you may need for the role and provide a step-by-step guide on how you can begin this career.

Related: What Is a Biologist and How to Become One (With Steps)

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What does an aquarist do?

If you're interested in pursuing a career working with marine life, you may wonder, 'What does aquarist do?' An aquarist is a type of animal caretaker who specialises in providing a safe and nurturing environment for marine life. Most aquarists work in zoos, aquariums, research firms, environmental conservation groups, research laboratories or animal sanctuaries. In certain instances, an aquarist may travel to different regions to gather specimens from rivers, lakes and seas. They may remove and return the specimens they gather to the facility.

An aquarist's work description varies according to location but also by seniority. A junior-level aquarist's tasks may involve cleaning tanks and monitoring animal behaviour. On the other hand, a more senior aquarist may develop diet and exercise schedules, conduct research to enhance aquarium conditions and lead deep-sea dives to study new animals.

Related: 14 Jobs in the Aquarium Industry (Plus Salary and Duties)

An aquarist's profession may be rather physical at times since carrying animals from one tank to another requires a lot of physical strength. Listed below are some duties an aquarist may perform:

  • supervising the upkeep of tanks containing sea creatures such as fish, crustaceans and sharks

  • observing the health of sea creatures and assessing any injuries and diseases

  • monitoring and detecting any anomalies in the marine habitats or fish tanks

  • mentally stimulating some marine species with challenges

  • cleaning the inside of fish tanks

  • performing the necessary maintenance on tools and equipment

  • identifying and treating diseases in various marine species

  • inspecting filters, pumps and heaters to ensure they're operating properly

  • guaranteeing the water quality and temperatures are at the proper levels

  • overseeing nutrition and propagation strategies

  • giving food, supplements and vitamins to the animals in their care

  • creating exhibits for marine life to thrive in that mimic their natural habitats and are visually pleasing to observers

  • going deep-sea diving to investigate underwater species and gather samples

  • preparing and drafting reports on water quality, tank conditions and animal health

Related: What Does a Zoologist Do? (Duties, Requirements and Salaries)

How to become an aquarist

Because the major purpose of your role as an aquarist is to keep underwater animals healthy and safe, it's important that you possess the necessary skills and background to succeed in this job. To become an aquarist, you can consider taking the following steps:

1. Obtain your bachelor's degree

Pursue and attain a bachelor's degree in a relevant scientific or animal-related discipline to study animal behaviour and anatomy. You can get a degree in marine biology, aquaculture, zoology or another closely related subject, like veterinary sciences or environmental engineering. As early as secondary school, you might begin taking electives or participating in extracurricular activities to gain practical knowledge about ecosystems, animals and conservation efforts.

Related: How to Be An Environmental Conservationist

2. Enrol in scuba diving classes and workshops

The majority of aquarist jobs entail fieldwork, such as diving in rivers, seas and lakes to gather samples and research underwater life. Employers may anticipate that you obtain your scuba diving certification outside of your bachelor's programme. Be mindful to also get the necessary certifications so that you can care for animals in an emergency while spending a lot of time underwater.

3. Consider undertaking an internship

While it's not always necessary, many aquarists begin their careers by interning at a local aquarium to get experience and a competitive advantage in a competitive sector. This might provide you with the opportunity to observe a professional aquarist and learn more about the role's duties via hands-on, practical experience. An internship experience can also help you gain your network in the field.

As an entry-level candidate, including an internship on your resume, can help you stand out from the crowd. Many programmes collaborate with companies that provide internships for university credit, so enquire with your professor about possible options.

Related: What Is an Environmental Scientist? And How To Become One

4. Participate in a professional organisation

You may consider joining professional associations to broaden your network and take up new skills. Many aquarists from all around the world are members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. This non-profit group provides aquarists with tools and networking opportunities to develop ideas, exchange industry information and provide advice on work-related issues. In addition to networking with a worldwide community, you can expect to remain up to date on the latest advancements in your sector. There may be other local groups you may consider joining as well.

5. Continue pursuing your education

Consider furthering your education if you want to take on more difficult duties, advance in your career and make more money. You can get your master's degree in marine biology or a related discipline straight after finishing your undergraduate studies or after working as an aquarist for a few years. This advanced education can prepare you to work in senior and specialised jobs. You may do advanced fieldwork, high-level experiments or educate students about marine biology.

Related: What Does a Marine Biologist Do? Definition and Examples

What skills do you need to become an aquarist?

An aquarist may possess and showcase a deep passion for marine nature and animals along with the environment. Also, aquarists possess soft talents to excel in their role. Outlined below are some skills you may consider cultivating as an aquarist:

  • Problem-solving abilities: Aquarists frequently collaborate with other specialists to identify how they may make an animal's surroundings more favourable to its requirements. They also seek strategies to safeguard wildlife and animals from external dangers.

  • Observation skills: Aquarists spend a lot of time monitoring animals and their environment. It's critical that they can notice even the smallest details about an animal's behaviour and surroundings.

  • Critical thinking abilities: Based on their study, scientific observations and experiments, aquarists may derive conclusions. These results frequently support animal preservation projects and can be critical to groups working to preserve animals.

  • Research abilities: In their field of work, aquarists frequently do significant research to better understand how animals interact in their settings and the influence that the environment and people have on animals. Data collecting, report writing, analytical thinking, critical thinking and interviewing are all necessary research abilities for aquarists.

  • Interpersonal skills: Aquarists frequently collaborate with other animal experts and wildlife professionals in a team setting. Interpersonal skills may allow them to work efficiently in a group context and towards a similar objective with other wildlife experts.

  • Technological skills: The majority of aquarists employ specialised scientific equipment and data management software to conduct research and perform their studies. For aquarists to be successful in their employment, it's important that they're well-versed in these technologies.

  • Communication skills: Many aquarists create reports and write research papers that demonstrate their investigations and conclusions. It's important that they possess active listening and nonverbal communication skills to ensure that they can communicate with other animal experts in a succinct and straightforward manner.

  • Detail-orientation: Aquarists may face situations where they take care of a lot of animals. Therefore, it's important for aquarists to have a keen eye for detail to detect changes in behaviour, disease or damage in the animal under their care.

  • Physical fitness: It's an active profession that necessitates several hours on foot in addition to diving research. This makes physical stamina highly important.

  • Ability to use tools and equipment: It's also critical for an aquarist to be familiar with marine biology and anatomy and numerous types of tools and equipment, such as forklifts, boats, veterinary instruments and tank plumbing.

Related: 8 Benefits of Soft Skills Training and Types of Soft Skills

What is the work environment of an aquarist?

An aquarist can operate in a number of environments, the most frequent one being an aquarium. An aquarist can also undertake fieldwork in zoos, animal sanctuaries and the outdoors. An aquarist working in an aquarium or another public facility may work irregular hours, such as outside public viewing hours so as to accommodate feeding schedules. As an aquarist, you can expect to spend most of your time in the aquarium environment and carry out tasks like preparing food, monitoring pumps, filters and heaters or handling inventory.

Related: What Does a Zookeeper Do? (With Role, Skills and Salary)

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article is affiliated with Indeed.

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