What is an Ichthyologist?

Vicki Hogue-Davies

An ichthyologist is a scientist who studies fish. Ichthyologists work in a variety of specialties and for a variety of organizations. They perform taxonomy, which consists of identifying and classifying fish, for museum collections, and they teach and perform research at universities. They work for environmental and government organizations to study fish in relation to their environmental habitats and learn how to better conserve them. Other specialty areas ichthyologists work in include behavior, breeding, public and private aquarium maintenance and more.

Ichthyology is the scientific study of fish, like the salmon.
Ichthyology is the scientific study of fish, like the salmon.

Museum ichthyologists identify and classify fish species, perform research and collect data. Many ichthyologists specialize in freshwater or marine fish or certain subsets of those groups. An ichthyologist might work in the field, traveling to different parts of the world to collect specimens. Preservation of collected fish is also an important part of the work that a museum ichthyologist might do. University ichthyologists teach undergraduate and graduate-level courses in biology, ichthyology, ecology and more, perform research projects and publish papers on their findings.

Ichthyologist often undergo scuba training so that they can observe their subjects in person.
Ichthyologist often undergo scuba training so that they can observe their subjects in person.

Ichthyologists in conservation specialties work for government agencies, environmental groups and other organizations. They conduct research relating to fish populations and management. They produce guides and catalogs of fish and fish larvae in specific geographic areas, and they prepare environmental impact reports.

Other ichthyologists work for public aquariums as educators, fish keepers, exhibit developers and in other capacities. Private aquarium-keeping is a popular hobby, and people educated as ichthyologists can be found working in fish stores. They also write and edit for consumer publications about keeping fish.

To become an ichthyologist, it is important that one has an interest in nature and animals, and especially a passion for fish. Most people who seek careers in this field gain undergraduate degrees in zoology or biology or a combination of the two, and then gain advanced degrees in ichthyology. Ichthyology programs can be found at many universities and some museums. A master's degree or doctoral degree normally is required for higher-level positions in the field. To teach at a college or university or conduct university level research, a doctoral degree is almost always required.

Before starting out studying in the field, talking to an ichthyologist about the job is important. To find out if the career is a good fit, prospective ichthyologists might wish to assist professionals in the field. Learning specialized skills for fieldwork, such as scuba diving or other languages, can be helpful.

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Discussion Comments


@Logicfest -- I am not sure why it is a surprise that an ichthyologist would be in close contact with fishermen. Quite often, you will find that hunters and fishermen do a lot in the way of wildlife conservation.

Duck hunters are known for being interested in wetland preservation. Hunters love to see forests preserved. Fishermen want to make sure fish, rivers and lakes all stay healthy.

Hunters and fishermen have a vested interest in environmentalism. They want plenty of animals and fish running around healthy so they can be hunted or caught.


I knew a biology major from my college who went on to earn a master's degree in ichthyology. Interesting guy. Had a huge fish tank in his room with a large mouthed bass in it.

Anyway, I wondered what he would do with a master's degree in ichthyology. He now makes a very good living helping restock ponds with native fish and trying to figure out what is killing fish. That guy has a surprising amount of contact with sportsmen and other people who are primarily interested in catching and eating fish.

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