How Much Do SeaWorld Trainers Make Annually?

Have you ever thought about a career as an animal trainer? Have you ever wondered if you’ll be able to support yourself and your family on an animal trainer’s salary? A lot of people look to some of the world’s most well-known trainers, like those employed by SeaWorld parks across the United States, as a guideline for how successful you can become in this line of work. So just how much do trainers at SeaWorld earn every year?

The truth is, we don’t know for certain, but can venture an educated guess based on the average salaries for animal trainers found online.

Animal trainers in general make a living wage, but it can be on the lower end of the spectrum. According to what the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us, $24,990 per year or $12.02 an hour is the starting salary. But in most cases, this doesn’t include specialized fields. The top 10 percent of animal trainers earn, on average, upwards of $38,630 per year. Again, it can vary greatly, but there’s definitely room to move up on the pay scale.

Marine mammal trainers, like the type you might find at SeaWorld, however, are on a different pay scale. Balance Careers quotes a study that found that experienced marine mammal trainers earn, on average, $56,000 per year. The U.S. Navy has been hiring experienced marine mammal trainers at $71,035 per year for the last two years.

That’s why we assume that if you work with SeaWorld, you probably earn a better-than-average paycheck. But you also have to have some extraordinary personal and professional characteristics.

What It Takes to Become a Trainer at SeaWorld

There is a certain kind of person who has the temperament to become a marine mammal trainer. Trainers need to form a trusted bond with the animals in their care. The personality traits of a SeaWorld trainer include:

  • Patience: Any kind of animal training requires patience. Trainers have to leave their frustrations at home and be present when learning about and working with animals..
  • Strength: Trainers at SeaWorld spend a lot of time in the water. Excellent swimming skills and superior physical fitness are essential for this job. Jobs at marine mammal parks like SeaWorld may also require scuba certification.
  • Commitment: Animals need to get to know their trainers. And trainers need a plan B and maybe even plans C and D when it comes to finding the right training techniques . Not every animal responds the same way to proven training techniques, but dedicated trainers find a way to get the results they seek.

It’s very difficult to become a marine mammal trainer without a college degree. Trainers have to have in-depth knowledge of animal behavior, especially the psychology of the kinds of marine animals with which they work. They usually receive academic training in marine biology, animal behavior, animal science, zoology, biology, or psychology. 

However, there are cases where certain marine mammal trainers don’t have to have bachelor’s degrees. There is a 7 days a week, 22 months, hands-on associate’s degree program in exotic animal training at Moorpark College in California. Graduates are prepared for jobs at marine mammal parks like SeaWorld and also zoos, animal parks, and in the TV and film industries.

Occasionally, someone with a gift for working with animals may get experience with pets by working for vets and eventually finds a way to work with marine mammals like sea lions, dolphins, and more.

Jobs at SeaWorld are available in Orlando, Texas, and California where the parks are located. Most jobs for animal trainers, in general, are found in California, Texas, Florida, and New York. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), SeaWorld parks have intense competition for jobs, but there are lots of openings for animal trainers all over the United States, with job openings growing at a rate of 22 percent per year.

There is no better place to do marine mammal training than at SeaWorld, but SeaWorld has high expectations for its trainers. To be an animal trainer at SeaWorld, you typically must have a bachelor’s degree. SeaWorld hires college graduates with degrees in marine sciences, psychology, and drama. You have to pass a rigorous swimming test, and you have to have public speaking skills.

SeaWorld offers some perks for marine mammal trainers that can’t be found anywhere else.

The Benefits of Working as a MarineMammal Trainer at SeaWorld

No matter where you go to college, even if you graduate from Moorpark College, there will be a lot more to learn about training marine mammals once you’re on the job. While college and early job experiences can teach you general principles of marine mammal training, you will have to learn the specific techniques used at the aquarium or sea experience park where you get your first professional job. You will have to spend time getting to know the animals, and you will have to develop cooperative relationships with the rest of the training team.

But if fortunate enough, you will have world-class opportunities for professional development once you establish yourself as a trainer at SeaWorld. Some of the professional growth possibilities for SeaWorld trainers include:

  • Animal trainers: This entry-level position involves every aspect of marine mammal care. You will make sure that the animals maintain a healthy diet, keep their habitats clean, help transport animals if necessary, and interact with the public during presentations. Animal trainers usually progress through apprentice trainer, associate trainer, and senior trainer positions.
  • Supervisor of animal training: After a few years on the job, you may find yourself making sure that newer hires have the training they need to care for the animals and keep visitors happy, while ensuring that every performance meets the same quality standards.
  • Curator of animal training: The animal training curator oversees the day-to-day operations of marine mammal trainers but also “steers the ship” to make sure that training practices are in line with both the latest scientific research and the expectations of the public.

But these aren’t the only opportunities to get involved at SeaWorld. Beyond animal training, SeaWorld also sponsors veterinary externships. The company provides a 3- to 4-week clerkship for veterinary school students who want to expand their knowledge of how to care for non-domestic animals.

SeaWorld also always needs camp counselors. The future marine mammal trainers and marine scientists at SeaWorld can get their start at summer camp. And every camp counselor carries out the fundamental mission of SeaWorld:

  • To instill in students and guests of all ages an appreciation for science and a respect for all living creatures and natural environments.
  • To conserve our valuable natural resources by increasing awareness of the interrelationships of humans and the environment.
  • To increase students’ and guests’ basic competencies in science, math, and other disciplines.
  • To be an educational resource to the world.

Article Editor

Pamela is a television journalist, humor writer and novelist. Her first novel, Allegedly, was released in 2015 by St. Martin’s Press. The book is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. She and her husband, Daniel, have a 3-year-old son, Carter.

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