Careers in Ichthyology
Alexia Morgan - Former Commercial Shark Fishery Observer Program Coordinator at the Florida Museum of Natural History
- How did you become interested in ichthyology?
"I read a book by Eugenie Clark called "Shark Lady" when I was around 9 years old. The ocean had always fascinated me but
up until that point I had only read and had experience with marine mammals. This book opened my eyes to ichthyology and in
particular the study of sharks and other elasmobranchs. A woman scientist wrote the book, which was a bit more meaningful
to me being a young girl at that time."
- What training and education do you have?
"I have a Bachelors degree in biology, a Masters degree in marine biology, and am currently working on my Ph.D. in fisheries.
I have been trained in marine safety, first aid and CPR, acoustic tracking, attaching acoustic transmitters to young sharks,
inserting PIT tags into sharks and sea turtles, gillnet and longline fishing, marine mammal, fish and sea turtle identification,
data collection at sea, biological sampling, data entry into a computer database, and sea turtle resuscitation techniques."
- What personal qualities are important in this field?
"I think one of the top skills needed to make it in this field is determination. It can take many years of school and non-paid
internships before you actually secure a job you enjoy. It can be easy at any time during this process to give up and take a job
that pays more for less education. Individuals need to be hard working, dependable, honest and have a thick skin. Giving your
first presentation in front of your peers can be a very intimidating experience and most scientists are not afraid to let you
know if your project is not very good."
- Describe your work and research:
"Currently I work in several areas. My primary work is coordinating the Commercial Shark Fishery Observer Program. This program
sends trained biologist to sea on commercial bottom longline fishing vessels that target large coastal sharks from New Jersey
to Louisiana. I am in charge of hiring the observers, training them in marine safety and data collection, monitoring the
database, which houses all of the information they collect at sea, and assigning them to vessels. In addition I help write
final reports for the granting agency, write proposals for funding and analyze the data for publications. My other position
in the office is as an assistant for the International Shark Attack File, which house information on all known shark attacks
worldwide. I monitor the progress of data collection and entry, and victim interviews. I also provide information on shark
attacks to the media, scientists and general public. Outside of the office I am currently working on my Ph.D. in fisheries.
I am using statistical modeling as an approach to determine the effects of time area closures and gear modifications on the
dusky shark population of the Northwestern Atlantic Ocean. This mostly involves quantitative skills, an understanding of the
dusky shark population and factors that effect this species vulnerability."
- What skills do you use on the job?
"I work on the computer all day long when I'm in the office. I have to know how to use Access database, Microsoft word and
excel. There is a lot of data crunching, database monitoring, writing final reports, calling up boat captains to set up trips
and communicating with the observers during the fishing season. When I go to sea I collect fishery and catch specific data
including species identification and morphological information."
- What interesting discoveries have you made in your studies?
"There are always interesting discoveries when you work with marine life. I have seen some fascinating things at sea and
meet some truly unique individuals. I have also learned a lot about people by talking to victims and witnesses of shark attack."
- What is your typical work schedule?
"In the office it's the usual 8-5 routine and then schoolwork at night. At sea the hours are much different. You can wake up
as early as 3 am to haul back the fishing gear and be back in your bunk by 9 am for a short nap. Working at sea is much more
strenuous and the hours you are working vary drastically depending on the fishing gear being used and the amount of catch
associated with a single set."
- What do you like best about your job?
"I enjoy "crunching" the data collected both through the Commercial Shark Fishery Observer Program and the International
Shark Attack File. However I also enjoy going out to sea, but this has happened much less frequently since I went back to
- Does this profession require any travel?
"I get to travel several times a year for my job. This is usually to attend meetings, conferences and training sessions. Its
one of the better perks about working in observer programs, everyone loves to travel so there are usually a few meetings in
different locations every year."
- What is the general salary range for someone in your position?
"For a coordinator in an observer program a salary can range from $30-45k/year. As you become more involved in the
observer programs and take on more responsibility in the development of the program etc you can increase your salary."
- How long have you been an ichthyologist?
"I'm not really sure how to define that. I've been reading and studying fish on my own since I was young but never really did
anything with scientists until I graduated from college."
- Is it difficult to find a job in ichthyology?
"If you do not have a specific animal you want to work with it is a lot easier to find a job. If you only want to work with
sharks or gobies for example, you will be limiting your job options. There are a lot of research assistant jobs, observer
positions etc. for recent college graduates. As you narrow your interest level you begin to lose job opportunities but gain
the possibility to work on some really unique and interesting projects as you gain more skills."
- Have you ever considered a career in a different field?
"Only on really bad days and not for very long. While I have never changed my mind on working with sharks, my area of research
has changed from behavior to genetics to fisheries management. The most difficult thing for me was finding out exactly what
it was about sharks I wanted to study. I found the solution was trying out several different areas before I determined exactly
what type of research suited my skills and interests."
- Do you ever go fishing in your free time?
"I'm a vegetarian."