Zoology is a broad division of biology. Zoologists are biological scientists that study the study the characteristics, behavior, and habitats of animals. Many work to increase the knowledge and understanding of wildlife species. They may be involved with research, animal management, and/or education. Zoologists observe animals both in their natural habitats and in the laboratory.They often work closely with zookeepers, veterinarians, marine biologists, wildlife biologists, and public officials to properly manage animal populations in captivity and in the wild. Zoologists may also take on keeper and curator roles in some zoological parks.

Zoologists often specialize in the study of one group of animals. For example, ichthyologists concentrate on fishes; herpetologists study reptiles, frogs, and salamanders; and mammalogists study mammals. Some zoologists may specialize in one topic about animal life that may cover many species. Animal physiologists, for example, examine the life processes of animals and how the environment may affect these processes.

Education Requirements

Estimated Salary

  • B.S. in zoology, biology, ecology, animal behavior, conservation, or a related field
  • Master’s degree is often needed for advancement
  • PhD necessary for most independent research and for university-level teaching positions

For salary information, please visit the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

Tasks and Duties

Zoologist may have a variety of responsibilities depending on the specific nature of their job. These could include:

  • Studying the characteristics of animals, such as their physiology, reproduction, diseases, movement patterns, and interactions with other species
    • Depending on the position, zoologists may spend considerable time in the field gathering data and studying animals in their natural habitats. Fieldwork can require travel to remote locations of the world.
  • Estimating the distribution and abundance of wildlife populations
  • Developing and conducting experimental studies with animals in laboratory or field settings
  • Collecting biological data and specimens
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Writing research papers, technical reports, and scholarly articles that explain their findings
  • Making recommendations to policymakers and the general public on wildlife conservation and management issues
  • Teaching undergraduate and graduate courses (if in academia)

Knowledge and Skills

Basic skills may include:

  • Observation skills (to study animals in their natural habitat)
  • Field sampling design and application
    • Zoologists who work in the field need to be patient and willing to spend time in a variety of locations and environments.
    • Fieldwork can be physically demanding, and zoologists work in both warm and cold climates and in all types of weather.
  • Most zoologists work on research teams. They must be able to work effectively with others to achieve their goals.
  • Computer skills
    • Use GIS, modeling software, and other computer programs to estimate populations and track the behavior patterns of animals. Zoologists also use these programs to forecast the spread of invasive species, diseases, and other potential threats to wildlife.
  • Open water diving skills and the necessary certifications may be required for some positions
  • Ability to speak in a foreign language may also be helpful, especially if work is conducted in other countries.

May need knowledge in:

  • Anatomy/Physiology
  • Animal Behavior and Evolution
  • Biology
  • Chemistry/Biochemistry
  • Communications
  • Computer technology
    • Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
    • Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and other satellite tags
    • Modeling software
  • Ecology
  • Genetics
  • Marine Science
  • Statistics
  • Wildlife Biology
  • Wildlife Management
  • Zoology

Basic skills may also include:

  • Research and analytical skills
    • Experimental design and application
    • Data organization, processing, and analytics
    • Willingness to work long hours in a laboratory or in the field
    • Some positions may require specialized laboratory skills.
    • Shipboard experience may be useful
  • Written and oral communication skills
    • Preparation of technical reports and presentations
    • Authoring research articles
    • Drafting grant proposals
  • Interpersonal skills
    • Ability to cooperate and collaborate with others
    • Ability to teach and mentor undergraduate and graduate students (university-level teaching positions)
    • Public interactions and public speaking (ability to explain things to diverse audiences)

Connections to Underwater Acoustics

Most marine animals rely on sound for survival and depend on unique adaptations that enable them to communicate, protect themselves, locate food, and navigate underwater. Zoologists may study the sounds that marine animals make, how they produce them, and how these sounds are used in behaviors such as reproduction, feeding, and communication.

The ocean is full of both natural and anthropogenic (human-made) sources of sound. Therefore, zoologists may also investigate the potential effects of anthropogenic sound on marine animals. Scientists use data on the way in which the animals respond to similar sounds and sound levels to estimate how much the sound might affect their behavior. Background noise and specific sound sources might impact marine animals in several ways. The potential impacts include altering behaviors, preventing marine animals from hearing important sounds (masking), causing hearing loss (temporary or permanent), or damaging tissues.

Zoologists may use acoustic tools and methods to study marine animal distribution and abundance . For example, each species of whale and dolphin produces distinctive sounds that may include echolocation clicks, calls or songs. Zoologists can listen for these sounds, using tools such as hydrophones, hydrophone arrays, and other passive acoustic sensors, and detect different marine mammal species. Estimating abundance (population size), animal density (number of animals per unit area), and the overall distribution of marine mammals are critical for properly understanding marine mammal ecology as well as making important and effective management and conservation decisions. In a similar fashion, zoologists specializing in fishes (ichthyologists) can listen to fish vocalizations , identify species, and document fish distribution patterns, especially those related to spawning (reproduction). These data provide valuable information to resource managers overseeing natural resource policies on the marine environment.

Related Careers

  • Animal Keeper
  • Behavioral Biologist
  • Biological Technician
  • Conservation Biologist
  • Environmental Scientist
  • Evolutionary Biologist
  • Ichthyologist
  • Marine Biologist
  • Marine Ecologist
  • Marine Lawyer
  • Marine Mammalogist
  • Marine Mammal Trainer
  • Museum Curator
  • Oceanographer
  • Wildlife Biologist
  • Veterinarian


Animals and Sound 
Importance of Sound > Why is sound important to marine animals?
Use of Sound > How do marine animals use sound?
Effects > effects of sound

People and Sound
Investigate Marine Animals > How is sound used to estimate marine mammal abundance?
Investigate Marine Animals > How is sound used to estimate marine mammal distribution?
Investigate Marine Animals > How is sound used to study the distribution of marine fishes?

Technology Gallery
Basic Technology > Hydrophone
Basic Technology > Hydrophone Arrays
Basic Technology > Archival Marine Acoustic Recording Units (ARUs)
Basic Technology > Real-time Passive Acoustic Sensors
Basic Technology > Passive Acoustic Recording Tags


United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, FAQ for Biological Careers

A Career in Zoology, Canadian Society of Zoologist 

Weber State University, Careers in Zoology

Zoologist, Animal Careers