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Sub Fields of Marine Biology

The field of marine biology is just about as broad as it gets. Because of this, many marine biologists take courses to specialize in particular areas or subfields. A few examples of subfields offered at various marine biology schools are: phycology, invertebrate zoology, ichthyology, herpetology, marine mammalogy, environmental studies, and fisheries. 


Phycology is the study of algae. This is an important aspect of study because algae is the basis for much of the life underwater. In order to study an ecosystem, one must start from the bottom up. Also, if environmental changes (change in the pH of the water, changes in temperature, or exposure to toxins) are effecting an underwater ecosystem, it is likely that those affects are first occurring in the algae, and spreading to the rest of the animals as one consumers the other. Because of this, it is important that we understand algae, as anything affecting algae will most likely affect the rest of the sea.

Invertebrate Zoology:

Invertebrate zoology studies organisms without a backbone. These organisms include sponges, arthropods, crustaceans, and mollusks. This field of research isn’t only important because of its environmental aspects, it is also important because of its history. Sponges are thought to be the first living organism on this planet, predating the Eidiacarian period by eighty million years.


Ichthyology is the study of fish. This is what most people think about when they decide to go into the field of marine biology. Even the study of fish has its own subfields; one might specialize in deep-sea fish or fish found in coral reefs.


Herpetology is the study of amphibians and reptiles. These aren’t animals you normally think of when you ponder marine biology, but there are many different kinds of reptiles in the sea. For instance, sea turtles are reptiles. More menacing creatures such as crocodiles and sea snakes are also marine reptiles. When you really begin to delve into the study of the sea, you understand that it is made up of more than just fish.

Marine Mammalogy:

Marine mammalogy studies animals like whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, and walruses. Marine biologists research their eating habits, mating habits, and sense of community. This is a very exciting subfield to get into and is in fact what attracts many aspiring scientists to the field of marine biology.

Environmental Studies:

Many marine biologists are concerned with the affects the changing environment is having on sea creatures. While oceanographers might study ocean acidification, marine biologists will study the organism that ocean acidification is affecting. Marine biologists will also study creatures who are affected by warmer water temperatures and water pollution.


Marine biologists that work with fisheries, try to make sure that there is enough biodiversity in the fishery to prevent depletion of food sources. They search for ways to protect fish against overfishing and try to reconcile our taste for fish and the longitivtiy of the species of that fish.

In short, there are many different areas and subfields contained in the marine biology world. Completing a major in marine biology leads to a diverse and exciting career, open to many different research possibilities.

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