Aquarium Science

The Aquarium Science Program offers a comprehensive two-year Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree and a one-year Certificate that is open only to individuals who already possess a Bachelor’s degree in a life science area. Both the Certificate and the AAS provide theory and practical experience designed to prepare students for a career in aquatic animal husbandry.

Enrollment in the Aquarium Science Program is limited. For additional information and to apply for the program online visit the college webpage at or contact, the Aquarium Science Program Manager.

Students who successfully earn a degree or certificate will be qualified to work in the aquatic animal husbandry profession. They may be eligible for entry-level positions as aquarists, aquatic biologists, and keepers. Potential employment opportunities include public zoos and aquariums, ornamental fish retailers and wholesalers, aquaculture businesses, fish hatcheries, research programs, marine educational centers, state and federal natural resource agencies, as well as self- employment.

Admissions Requirements

Enrollment is limited to 20 to 24 students each year. Individuals wanting to enroll in the program must complete an on-line application located at Each applicant will have an interview with the Aquarium Science faculty.

Program Outcomes

Students completing the AAS or certificate will:

  • Accurately communicate, verbally, and in writing, scientific concepts, research findings and ideas to professionals and the general public.
  • Maintain, analyze, diagnose, and repair aquatic life support systems and their components.
  • Perform basic water quality analysis using standard testing equipment.
  • Maintain healthy animal populations by applying industry standards and practices to aquarium set-up, monitoring, and animal care.
  • Identify healthy, physically compromised animals, and abnormal animal behaviors.
  • Work as a member of a team to conceptualize, plan, construct, and manage environments that promote healthy fishes and invertebrates.
  • Apply fundamental knowledge and skills in science, mathematics, and communications for success in a professional or academic setting (AAS degree specific outcome).


Degrees and Certificates


AQS 100 : Introduction to Aquarium Science

Examines the history of animal keeping and present day aquatic animal husbandry industries. Explores the biological processes occurring in the aquarium environment. Learn proper setup and maintenance of home aquaria.


  • Assess the physical, chemical, and biological processes occurring in the aquatic environment.
  • Create and maintain suitable aquatic habitats.
  • Properly use associated tools and equipment.
  • Identify employment venues and information resources.
  • Recognize major groupings of fishes and invertebrate species found in the aquarium industry and use appropriate criteria for their selection to aquarium systems.

AQS 110 : Aquarium Science Practicum 1

Introduces aquatic animal husbandry work environment and the care of captive aquatic animals. Emphasizes daily animal care and exhibit readiness.


  • Prepare food for the animal collection and clean animal collection areas to industry standards.
  • Assist with opening and closing procedures at the aquatic facility.
  • Culture, harvest, and distribute live food organisms to the animal collection.
  • Interpret exhibits and aquatic animal work areas to facility patrons in a positive and informative manner.
  • Identify fishes and invertebrate behaviors.
  • Design and implement a fish transport strategy.

AQS 111 : Aquarium Science Practicum 2

Builds upon the experiences gained in Practicum 1. Involves participation in a higher level of aquatic animal husbandry activities including animal health procedures, long-term record keeping and life support systems training.


  • Apply aquatic animal husbandry skills with captive aquatic animals.
  • Assess operational issues in order to improve animal care.
  • Diagram the flow of water from its source to its discharge location.
  • Organize and communicate system and animal observations in a clear, concise manner.

AQS 165 : Current Issues in Aquarium Science

Students understand both internal operational issues and external issues which impact zoological facilities. Incorporates various topics each term.


  • Discuss the benefits that a zoological facility presents to the local community and to society.
  • Understand and discuss the role of revenue streams and expenditures within a zoological institution.
  • Identify how global or regional conditions outside of a zoological organization impact its operations.
  • Understand the role of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and similar organizations in promoting the viability of zoological facilities.

AQS 173 : Water Chemistry in Aquatic Systems

This course covers water chemistry dynamics in aquatic systems and covers topics including lab safety, occupational safety, the Nitrogen cycle salinity, dissolved oxygen, acid/base chemistry, pH and pH buffering, ozone chemistry, coliform bacteria testing, working knowledge of spectrophotometers and other lab techniques, proper handling and disposal of water quality (WQ) reagents, management of conservative and nonconservative salts, dilutions, molarity, stoichiometry, and basic calcifying invertebrate chemistry and husbandry. The class will focus on the chemistry of human managed aquatic systems like aquarium and aquaculture facilities but will relate the issues to the ecosystems that aquatic animals inhabit. The Aquatic Animal Life Support Operators (AALSO) Water Quality Technician Level 1 test will be incorporated into the final exam for this course. 

Addendum to Course Description

A Working knowledge of water chemistry and how different chemical compounds interact to promote or degrade the health of a living aquatic system and the animals living in it is essential to the success of a professional aquatic animal keeper. The lectures and labs in this course provide hands-on training in different aspects of water chemistry and how to properly and safely maintain or manipulate water chemistry parameters.




Upon completion of the course students should be able to:

  • Express orally or in writing, the basic elements of water chemistry in aquatic systems and the ideal ranges for WQ parameters in different types of aquatic systems.
  • Have working knowledge of how WQ parameters outside recommended ranges affect the health of the system and the animals living in it and be able to express it orally, graphically, and in writing.
  • Interpret water chemistry parameters and be able to develop a plan to safely manipulate and proactively manage these values in order to maintain system and animal health.
  • Understand how WQ impacts natural aquatic ecosystems.
  • Prepare students to take the AALSO Water Quality Technician Level 1 test.

AQS 186 : Introduction to Scientific Diving

Examines the technical and safety components of scientific diving and meets all academic training requirements compliant with American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) standards. Includes professional level of emergency responder certifications, watermanship proficiency, and authorization as a surface tender to support scientific diving operations.




Acceptance into Aquarium Science program.

  • Demonstrate a knowledge of AAUS scientific diving standards.
  • Work as an authorized scientific diving tender.
  • Act as an emergency first responder in rescue scenarios.
  • Independently create dive plans.
  • Demonstrate adequate waterman-ship skills while working as a tender for aquatic operations.

AQS 201 : Applied Learning in Aquarium Science I

First semester of Applied Learning in Aquarium Science. This course provides degree-seeking students beginning their second year in the Program enhanced learning opportunities and additional development by applying what they learned in their first year in instructor-directed projects in the Teaching Aquarium or at an offsite facility.



Working under the guidance of a mentor, students would demonstrate:

  • How to interpret water chemistry tests results and formulate a response plan for proactive water quality management on one or more systems.
  • An understanding of the importance of proper and consistent documentation in the health of aquatic animals and life support systems.
  • Identify normal and abnormal fish and invertebrate behaviors to better understand and address emerging health issues.
  • How to troubleshoot and optimize life support components on assigned systems.
  • Enhanced daily husbandry duties to promote optimal system and aquatic animal health.
  • How to describe theories and principles of routine husbandry verbally and in writing. 
  • How to develop a dietary regimen for specific species designed for optimal animal health.

AQS 202 : Applied Learning in Aquarium Science II

Second semester of Applied Learning in Aquarium Science. This course provides degree-seeking students beginning their second year in the Program enhanced learning opportunities and additional development by applying what they learned in their first year in instructor-directed projects in the Teaching Aquarium or at an offsite facility.

Working under the guidance of a mentor, students would demonstrate:

  • Enhanced interpretation of water chemistry tests results and the implantation of a response plan for proactive water quality management on one or more systems.
  • A consistently practiced understanding of the importance of proper documentation in the health of aquatic animals and life support systems and how this information enhances a team approach to animal health.
  • How changes in animal behavior, appetite, coloration and responses to stimuli often indicate an underlying health problem and formulate an informed hypothesis regarding the nature of the problem.
  • An advanced understanding of aquatic life support components and functions, including how to properly disassemble, inspect and perform maintenance and replacement of worn parts.
  • Enhanced daily, weekly, monthly and semi-annual husbandry duties to promote optimal system and aquatic animal health.
  • How to describe theories and principles of advanced husbandry verbally and in writing.
  • How to develop a dietary regimen for larger and more challenging species designed to promote optimal animal health, including weighing animals and charting how changes in diet affect weight, activity levels and other metrics.

AQS 215 : Biology of Captive Fishes

Examines the anatomy and physiology of freshwater and marine fishes and the constraints placed upon them in a controlled environment. Increases an understanding of fish behavior through the use of ethograms.


  • Identify basic external and internal anatomical features of fishes.
  • Identify fish species using a dichotomous key.
  • Recognize the immense diversity and variation among living fishes.
  • Describe the effects of key factors in the captive controlled environment on respiration, metabolism, immune response, food assimilation, growth, reproduction, and behavior.
  • Understand the influence of stress on fish physiology, health, and behavior.
  • Describe osmoregulatory processes of marine and freshwater fishes.
  • Develop and conduct a study of captive fish behavior.

AQS 216 : Elasmobranch Husbandry

Examines the history of captive shark and ray management, current regulations, legislation and conservation of elasmobranches. Emphasizes requirements associated with keeping a healthy population of elasmobranches.


  • Identify commonly kept species of elasmobranchs (sharks, skates and rays).
  • Identify proper nutrition, commonly encountered health conditions, and common behavior associated with elasmobranchs in captive environments.
  • Discuss factors necessary for the safe handling, immobilization and transport of elasmobranchs.
  • Discuss factors influencing the long-term success in keeping elasmobranchs in controlled captive environments.

AQS 220 : Biology of Captive Invertebrates

Reviews the life history and captive care requirements of invertebrates commonly cultured in the aquatic animal industry/profession.




Instructor permission or

  • Recognize and identify internal and external features of commonly kept and cultured aquatic invertebrates.
  • Discuss the important physiologic characteristics of aquatic invertebrates including reproduction, locomotion, and osmoregulation.
  • Describe the natural life history of commonly kept and cultured aquatic invertebrates.
  • Identify the husbandry requirements for selected aquatic invertebrates.5.Design a culture system suitable for selected aquatic invertebrates.

AQS 226 : Biology of Diverse Captive Species

Examines the basic husbandry and system requirements of a broad range of phyla found in public aquariums, research, and other zoological collections. Highlights specialized needs of selected invertebrate and fish species and introduces students to challenges and considerations for reptile, amphibian, avian, and marine mammal husbandry.


  • Understand the basic husbandry requirements of diverse captive species with specialized needs.
  • Discuss the broad taxonomic groups represented in public aquarium collections.
  • Identify high risk stages in the life history of selected species.
  • Determine and describe a suitable habitat for selected species.
  • Prescribe appropriate husbandry protocol for selected species.
  • Relate legislative and husbandry issues to the care of diverse captive species.

AQS 232 : Reproduction and Nutrition of Aquatic Animals

Examines the reproductive strategies of fishes and invertebrates in a controlled environment and the manipulation of environmental and physiological parameters that initiate reproduction. The nutritional requirement of selected aquatic animals throughout their life history is explored. Industry standards for food handling and HACCP requirements are also discussed.


  • Identify common reproductive strategies of selected fishes and invertebrates.
  • Construct an environmental protocol to induce gamete maturation in commonly cultured fishes and invertebrates.
  • Apply rearing techniques for the care of offspring of commonly cultured fishes and invertebrates.
  • Formulate a suitable dietary and feeding program for aquatic animals.

AQS 240 : Life Support System Design and Operation

Examines the role of life support systems in maintaining a balanced, stable aquatic environment. Presents how to design, construct, maintain and troubleshoot semiclosed, closed and open systems.


  • Identify water quality parameters impacted by life-support systems and relate the use of associated equipment to evaluate aquatic environments.
  • Identify the functions and the relationships of life support system components in maintaining a balanced aquatic system.
  • Size and select appropriate life support system components and equipment for an aquatic system.
  • Troubleshoot and remedy faulty life support system components.
  • Diagram the flow of water from its source to its discharge location.
  • Design and build an aquatic life support system.

AQS 245 : Animal Husbandry in a Research Capacity

Examines the use of fish in research and the ethical issues associated with this practice. Common procedures and research methodology such as anesthesia, biopsy, blood draws, minor surgeries, field study, behavioral techniques, and euthanasia will be presented.


  • Explain the role of Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee or similar entity that is responsible for monitoring the quality of animal care at a research facility.
  • Distinguish between animal rights and animal welfare perspectives.
  • Develop a Standard Operating Procedure for the transport, acclimation, quarantine, feeding and husbandry of a healthy population of fish for research purposes.
  • Discuss the responsibilities of the aquarist or animal husbandry technician as it relates to fish husbandry and welfare.
  • Implement measures to reduce workplace hazards.

AQS 252 : Exhibits and Interpretation

Introduces the principles of exhibit development and interpretive presentations. Covers projects in exhibit planning, performing interpretive presentations, and writing interpretive pieces. Emphasizes the process of developing exhibits and interpretation from conceptual statement through fabrication, performance, or publication.


  • Serve as a contributing member of an exhibit planning team, supporting the process of creating an exhibit and the roles of others on the team.
  • Apply the principles of interpretation to the programs that husbandry staff are frequently asked to perform.
  • Identify criteria, considerations and components for the design and implementation of aquarium tanks, lighting, interior tank habitats, and live animal collections.
  • Write effective interpretive material for exhibits, newsletters, and brochures.
  • Describe what makes an effective exhibit, and evaluate exhibits and interpretation using industry standard criteria.
  • Apply industry related information resources to the design and development of aquarium exhibits and interpretation.

AQS 270 : Fish and Invertebrate Health Management

Reviews the common infectious and noninfectious diseases of captive fish and invertebrates. Examines the common techniques of fish and invertebrate health management.


  • Identify the common signs of disease in fish and invertebrates.
  • Describe the common infectious and noninfectious diseases associated with captive aquarium fish.
  • Demonstrate proper use and maintenance of laboratory instrumentation.
  • Demonstrate proper necropsy and sample collection techniques.
  • Formulate a health management and biosecurity plan based upon the results of diagnostic testing, water quality measurements and professional consultation.
  • Perform common treatment methodologies.

AQS 295 : Aquarium Science Internship

Exposes students to the daily diligence, responsibilities and rewards of the aquatic animal husbandry profession. Includes daily animal care and facility readiness routines, assisting life support staff and animal health management professionals, and evaluation of operational aspects of the facility.


  • Apply aquatic animal husbandry skills with aquatic systems and captive aquatic animals.
  • Evaluate and participate in the delivery of aquatic animal nutrition, sanitation and biosecurity programs at an aquatic animal care facility.
  • Enter data and extract information within record keeping and databases used by the industry.
  • Discuss historic and current animal health management of captive aquatic animals within an aquatic animal care facility.
  • Evaluate and participate in the delivery of water quality management program within an aquatic animal care facility.
  • Identify components, configuration and operational requirements of life support systems within an aquatic animal care facility.
  • Identify and discuss aquarium exhibits in regard to their design, thematic delivery and operational requirements at an aquatic animal care facility.