What Does a Biological Oceanographer Do?

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  • Written By: C.B. Fox
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 28 February 2020
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A biological oceanographer is a scientist who studies organisms that live in the oceans. The jobs of these scientists usually involve research, though the nature of the research varies considerably. The most well-known group of these scientists, marine biologists, study the various species that live in the ocean. Other types of biological oceanographers may study the relationship between different populations of animals and plants, how these life forms are affected by the environment, and how they adapt to natural and manmade changes.

The various life forms in the oceans include viruses, bacteria, protozoa, fungi, plants, and animals. Depending on the type of life studied, biological oceanographers may have a background in marine biology, zoology, botany, microbiology, virology or another specialty field. In the study of various life forms, a biological oceanographer may examine behavior, anatomy, or the health of various populations.


Scientists who study microbiology or molecular biology in the oceans may study whole lifeforms or parts of them. They may examine the internal workings of cells, protein synthesis, or the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) or ribonucleic acid (RNA) of life forms. In many cases, these studies are focused on bacteria, viruses, and protozoa, though the cells of multi-cellular organisms can also be studied in isolation from the organisms themselves. A biological oceanographer who concentrates on this aspect of oceanography will often work in a laboratory setting, though there are others who may work in the field, collecting samples and tracking populations of microscopic organisms.

Another focus of study for a biological oceanographer is the biodiversity of the oceans. These scientists may examine the way various populations interact with one another or how they are affected by changes to their environment. A biological oceanographer can examine the effects of pollution, temperature change, and nutrient density on all the life forms in an ecosystem. The study of these things gives scientists a better understanding of how life in the ocean is affected by human behavior and climate change.

Though a biological oceanographer is often concerned with developing a greater understanding of the dynamics of life in the ocean, there are also practical applications for this type of work. Medical treatments can be discovered or developed out of life forms from the sea. Other oceanographers may study the populations of marine species that humans regularly consume so that sustainable fishing practices can be developed.


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