Ross Socolof Is Free

Ross Socolof — renowned ichthyologist, passionate naturalist, and famous explorer — passed on October 20, 2009. We invite you to join us in celebrating his life — read the articles, view the gallery, and share the memories we have collected on this website. If you have photos or recollections of Ross you'd like to share, please email for inclusion on this website.

Ross Benjamin Socolof was born on October 23, 1925 in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army and was wounded, the only survivor of an explosion that killed his entire troop. After the war, he returned to New York and started working for the family's King Kullen supermarket chain. But the grocery business held little interest for Ross, and when he had an unexpected opportunity to buy a retail tropical fish store, he never looked back.

Ross soon expanded into the wholesale tropical fish business and fish farming industry with the Gulf Fish Hatcheries and Socolof Farms in Florida. Over the next forty years, Ross competed against most of the giants of the modern tropical fish industry, from Albert Greenberg to Fred Cochu. His reputation for honesty and competence enabled him to make many friends in the fish business.

In the 1960s, along with a small group of other fish experts, Ross founded the American Cichlid Association to advance knowledge and conservation of these biologically interesting fish. He was instrumental in creating an endowment fund which supports research on cichlid biology. The ACA named him a fellow in 1973, and in 2001 it bestowed its highest honor, the Guy Jordan Retrospective Award, in recognition of Ross's lifetime achievements in the cichlid hobby.

Together with his wife Loise — herself the author of Gerbils as Pets and known for introducing Mongolian gerbils to the pet trade — he explored the jungles of Central and South America. A member of the Explorer's Club, he traveled the world in pursuit of fish, introducing many species to the hobby. Most of these species are still being captively propagated and distributed today. Three new species were named after him, most notably Pseudotropheus socolofi, which was honored on a postage stamp in Malawi.

Ross was happiest when he was up to his waist in a swamp in Belize, collecting fish. On his last expedition, he fell in a creek and broke his arm. His longtime best friend and fellow explorer, Dr. Harry Specht, set the arm with some driftwood and they carried on.

Ross is the author of Confessions of a Tropical Fish Addict, published in 1996. The book is part autobiography and part history of the tropical fish industry in the U.S. from after World War II through 1980.

He is survived by his sons Bill and Mark Oppenheimer; his daughters Jodi and Amy; his sister, Lois Rose; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His wife, Loise, predeceased him. He also leaves two honorary sons, Heiko Bleher and Rusty Wessell.

His granddaughter Jaime offered this tribute: "I remember Grandpa once telling me about one of his greatest fears that he would die without reading all of the books he owned. That might be why a few years ago he sent me several boxes filled with books about adventure, courage and science. He didn't just read about those things, he embodied those qualities and passed them on to me and many, many others. He was one of the most positive influences in my life. He taught me so much: history, science, how to be a good person, how to grow brine shrimp, break clams in the ocean and later use them to make linguine with clam sauce, and he mentored me in photography. I know that I would not be a photojournalist today without his encouragement at a young age. I think about him often and I never turn down a chance to brag on him."