When I was going through veterinary school, there was no aquatic animal track, no fish courses and not even an exotics veterinarian at Tufts at the time. I had to find my own classes and rotations to further my aquatic veterinary knowledge. I am creating this as a reference for any veterinary student who is interested in aquatic animal medicine and would like to learn more. There is a vast network of aquatic animal veterinarians; you just have to know where to look for them.
Thinking about medical school vs. veterinary school? Check out both perspectives in our webinar.
Not in veterinary school yet? The best way to get some aquatic animal experience is to volunteer at your local zoo or aquarium. (Read all about my awesome volunteer experience here.) To find opportunities near you, check out the Association of Zoos & Aquariums Website. If you’re in college, apply for an internship at your local aquarium. AZA has open internships posted on their job listings page (Click here). They are unpaid positions, but it’s a great way to get experience and boost your resume for when you apply to veterinary school!
AQUATIC ANIMAL SUMMER CLASSES
AQUAVET (2-5 weeks) – veterinary students & veterinarians
This program is offered in the summer in conjunction with Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania. AQUAVET I (4 weeks) is a more basic class that focuses on a broad range of species with lots of trips out into the field. AQUAVET II (2 weeks) is spent looking through microscopes at infected samples of fish, invertebrates and molluscs. AQAUVET III (5 weeks) is a new program focused on the practice of clinical medicine in aquariums and with captive species. All of the programs have great instructors and loads of networking opportunities.
MARVET (length varies) – veterinary students & veterinarians
There are many MARVET classes offered, ranging from Florida, Mexico, Grand Cayman and California. Check out their website for current class offerings. I had the opportunity to join the MARVET Grand Cayman class for 2 weeks in 2010. The class was based out of St. Matthew’s University and consisted of classroom sessions, lab work and field trips. The highlight of this trip was a coral transect where we had to dive down and survey the coral reefs, looking for signs of disease. I know others who have taken some of the other trips and they loved them all!
SeaVet (9 days) – veterinary students & veterinarians
This short course offered through the University of Florida is designed as an intensive nine day course designed to teach vet students and veterinarians aquatic med through lecture, case-based problem-solving and hands-on training.
EXTERNSHIPS – open to students and veterinarians
Although some of the externships are repeated below, the World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association (WAVMA) is currently building a database for all aquatic veterinary student externships. They are listed chronologically by application deadline.
SeaWorld (3-4 weeks)
SeaWorld offers externships at each of its 3 locations. There is one common application where you rank each park. I spent 3 weeks at SeaWorld Orlando where I got to work with the collection animals and a wide variety of wild birds. Externs get to do a lot with the wild birds that are brought for rehabilitation, even surgery! You are required to give a small presentation to the veterinary staff on the last week of your rotation. Housing is not provided, but there are lots of hotels in the area. I booked very early at an extended stay hotel with a small kitchenette for around $50/night.
The Marine Mammal Center (3-4 weeks)
Located in Sausalito, CA, the Marine Mammal Center is in the front-running for marine mammal rehabilitation and research. It is very seasonal, with more animals in the spring and summer. I was there in March for the peak of elephant seal pup season and there was always lots to do. You work with the veterinary staff 3-4 days per week, and then on crew, doing basic husbandry and feeding once or twice a week. We had the opportunity to work one day with the harbor seal pups, which is always fun. Housing is provided with the veterinary intern and any other externs at one of the old fort houses nearby. It is highly recommended that you get a car for driving around. It is a beautiful area with lots of beach coast and hiking.
My old 2nd home, Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, CT, right near the coastal Rhode Island border, houses a large collection of marine mammals, fish and invertebrates. You work primarily with the veterinary intern, shadowing and assisting on procedures. You will also get very proficient in taking and processing analog radiographs. A presentation is required during this externship. No housing is provided, but you may want to ask if they know of anyone working at the aquarium who can provided you with a room for the time you are there. This is another rotation where you’ll want a car to check out all the beaches nearby.
Although I was unable to fit this rotation into my schedule, Georgia Aquarium is one of the newest aquariums in the US. It has a shiny and new procedure suite and one of the most outstanding tanks in the world. Housing is not provided. You may not need a car since the aquarium is located in downtown Atlanta, GA.
For those of you looking to fill your private practice requirement, check out Elma Animal Hospital in Williamsville, NY. This practice is the home of Dr. Helen Sweeney, a small animal/exotic/aquatic animal veterinarian who wrote the book on Ornamental Fish Health. She is also the owner of Aquatic Veterinary Services of Western New York. Although you’re not guaranteed to see a lot of fish, it is a wonderful practice to work at for a few weeks. Everyone is extremely friendly and nice and hotels are very cheap in that area.
Navy Marine Mammal Program (4 weeks)
The US Navy trains marine mammals to perform tasks underwater that cannot be performed by humans. Although this was another externship that didn’t fit into my schedule, it is a highly recommended program and is a high priority for those interested in marine mammal medicine. This program is based in San Diego, CA and is highly competitive.
Vancouver Aquarium (2-4 weeks)
Located in Stanley Park of Vancouver, Canada, Vancouver Aquarium takes externs to work with their collection of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish. A literature review project is required. Housing is not provided but they provide a guide on their website. Make sure your passport is up to date!
Georgia Sea Turtle Center (2-6 weeks)
The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is located on Jekyll Island along the southern coast of Georgia. They rehabilitate both sea turtles and native land turtles at their center. If turtles are your interest, this is one of the best facilities to participate in the latest research and rehabilitation techniques. A research project is required for non-4th year students that is financed by funding through your school. Housing available based on seasonality. A car is recommended.
National Aquarium (6-8 weeks)
National Aquarium is located in Baltimore, MD and houses a large collection of fish, mammals, amphibians/reptiles and birds. This rotation gives hands-on experience with fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians. There is some work with mammals and other critters, but it is largely observational. Applications are accepted year round. A small presentation is required. No housing is available but there are lots of hotels in the area.
New England Aquarium (6-8 weeks)
Located in Boston, MA, the New England Aquarium hosts a large collection of fish , birds, marine mammals and turtles. Their chief veterinarian, Dr. Charles Innis, is one of the most knowledgeable about cold stun in turtles and has made a significant contribution to researching their rehabilitation. Externs are required to prepare a case report and research paper with presentations for both. No housing is available, but there are lots of options nearby.
Shedd Aquarium (4-6 weeks)
Shedd Aquarium is located in Chicago, IL and has a large and diverse collection of fishes, marine mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, nonmarine mammals and invertebrates. A project is required for this externship. There is no housing provided, but public transportation is very accessible.
Tennessee Aquarium (2 weeks)
In addition to various freshwater and marine fishes, students will have the opportunity to work with penguins, psittacines, native birds and reptiles. They will gain experience in the realm of aquatic bio-security and quarantine. In addition, students will be involved with the husbandry and medical concerns of mammals ranging from Flying Squirrels to North American River Otters. (The Tennessee Aquarium does not house marine mammals of any type.) Preceptors will be provided housing within walking distance of the Tennessee Aquarium for the two week period and receive a small daily meal allowance.
University of Florida Tropical Aquaculture Lab (4-8 weeks)
This program allows veterinary students to work in U of FL Fish Disease Diagnostic Lab under the guidance of Dr. Roy Yanong. This externship focuses solely on fish, both ornamental and aquaculture. The program is located in Ruskin, FL. Focus is emphasized on water quality, production systems and methodology, and herd health management. A vehicle is required and a research or literature review, dependent on length of stay, is also required. There is very reasonable and affordable housing right on site with the lab in a house trailer with kitchen/washer & dryer, etc.
California Department of Fish & Game (6 weeks)
This rotation is geared towards wildlife veterinarians and pathologists. Externs rotate between CDFG’s Wildlife Investigations Lab (WIL) in Rancho Cordova and CDFG’s Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center in Santa Cruz. If available, some time may be available with WHC participating in ongoing field research projects and/or oil spill response. Research projects are encouraged, but not required. Free housing is available for the Santa Cruz portion, but no other locations. A vehicle is required.
For all aquatic internships: preference is given to applicants with previous internships experience. It is extremely rare for someone to go directly into an aquatic internship from veterinary school.
National Aquarium (Baltimore, MD) – Apply through the Veterinary Internship and Residency Matching Program (VIRMP)
National Marine Mammal Foundation Veterinary Internship – Joined program through the US Navy Marine Mammal Program and SeaWorld San Diego
Also apply through VIRMP. An internship in aquatic animal medicine is required for all residencies. These residencies are to prepare candidates to sit for the American College of Zoological Medicine board exam.
CLUBS AND ASSOCIATIONS