Obituary Notice: Richard Rosenblatt: Renowned Scripps Oceanography Ichthyologist


Richard H. Rosenblatt, a world-renowned ichthyologist and professor associated with Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, since 1958, died at his home in San Diego, Calif., on Oct. 30, 2014, from natural causes. He was 83 years old.

Rosenblatt was professor emeritus of marine biology and a noted research zoologist. He also held the distinction of curator emeritus of the Marine Vertebrate Collection, part of the Scripps Oceanographic Collections, the largest and most comprehensive university-based oceanographic collections in the world.

"Scripps has lost one of its long-time treasures,” said Margaret Leinen, director of Scripps Oceanography. “Dick was a great source of knowledge about the marine environment and a true inspiration to generations of marine scientists."

Rosenblatt’s research focused on the geographic distribution and evolution of fishes and the biology and history of shore and island animals. As curator, he was responsible for overseeing approximately two million preserved specimens, representing more than 5,500 species, in an invaluable collection serving scientists worldwide as a unique, enormous reference library for basic research and ecological studies. The collection also plays an integral role in the support of graduate education and research at Scripps, a role championed by Rosenblatt. It is one of the largest collections of deep-sea and pelagic fishes in the world, as well as the premiere collection of shore fishes from the eastern Pacific. 

"Dick was a giant in the ichthyological community," said Phil Hastings, curator of marine vertebrates at Scripps. "His legacy includes not only a significant body of careful and detailed research on the systematics and evolution of fishes, ranging from shallow-water reef fishes to obscure groups of deep-sea fishes, but also an impressive cadre of students who learned fishes at his feet."

"Dick's influence on our collection was profound, not just his research and collecting but his adherence to the highest standards of curation.  We will miss him," said H.J. Walker, Scripps museum scientist.

Born in Kansas City, Mo., on Dec. 21, 1930, Rosenblatt attended the University of California, Los Angeles, and received a B.A. degree in 1953, Master’s degree in 1954, and a Ph.D. in 1959, all in zoology. He joined the research staff of Scripps Oceanography as a research zoologist in 1958, serving primarily as curator of the fish collection during the day and writing his Ph.D. dissertation at night.  He was appointed a full professor of marine biology at Scripps in 1972.

His interest in fishes is traced back to his early life.  Moving around frequently as a child, Rosenblatt became a voracious reader, a pattern that continued throughout his life. He began reading and learning about, and keeping, fishes at an early age. During his years at UCLA, he was inspired by several notable faculty members who encouraged his interest and education in ichthyology and biological sciences. At Scripps, Rosenblatt’s early career was guided by the preeminent systematic ichthyologist and naturalist Carl Hubbs. Rosenblatt became curator of the Scripps Marine Vertebrate Collection as the collection was entering an era of growth with the invention of scuba and ship-towed, deep-sea trawls and the increased dedication of Scripps research vessels to the collection of biological specimens.   

As a seagoing scientist, Rosenblatt led expeditions throughout his career to collect specimens and train graduate students. He was passionate about teaching and took a special interest in educating people about fishes and inspiring others to conduct research on them.  He loved overseeing the Scripps Marine Vertebrate Collection, which he often lauded as one of the world’s leading fish collections embedded in a university setting, exposing students to diverse disciplines and providing interactions with leading scientists of those disciplines. 

Rosenblatt served as director of Scripps Aquarium-Museum from 1961 until 1965 and his chief responsibility was planning for its future. He decided the aquarium should employ a full-time professional aquarist and offered the position to Don Wilkie, who eventually served as aquarium director. Rosenblatt remained involved as chairman of the Aquarium Advisory Committee. 

“He played a major role in planning the new aquarium, Birch Aquarium at Scripps, exhibit program and in training aquarium staff in ichthyology,” said Wilkie. “He also assisted in collecting specimens for the new facility. The quality of the exhibit program benefited greatly from his input and assistance.”

Rosenblatt served as chairman of the Scripps Graduate Department from 1980 to 1985, and again from 1990 to1995, overseeing graduate education with an interdisciplinary research focus in marine and earth sciences. As a research and teaching institution, Scripps is engaged in ocean and earth science worldwide and as chair, Rosenblatt coordinated multidisciplinary education programs leading to Ph.D. degrees in oceanography, marine biology, and earth sciences.

Rosenblatt had a deep and lasting commitment to teaching evolutionary biology.  This continued after his retirement when he and his late wife, Glenda, generously sponsored the Richard H. and Glenda G. Rosenblatt Lectureship in Evolutionary Biology at Scripps. This award is part of an endowed series of annual lectures by distinguished evolutionary biologists.

Rosenblatt was a fellow of the San Diego Natural History Society and a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Society of Zoologists, the Society for the Study of Evolution, and Sigma Xi. He is a past president of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. He authored nearly 100 scientific papers.

Rosenblatt is survived by daughters Lisa of Mercer Island, Wash., and Denise of Washington, D.C., and three granddaughters and one grandson. Rosenblatt’s wife, Glenda, who also worked at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at Scripps Aquarium in the 1980s and ‘90s, died in April 2014. His first wife, Barbara, died in 1985.

Colleagues wishing to express condolences are invited to submit messages for web posting to:

A memorial service honoring Richard Rosenblatt was held Thursday, January 15, 2015, at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.


Tributes to Dick Rosenblatt

• Dick was my mentor - he introduced me to the remarkable diversity of fishes and taught me about how to study them. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of fishes and his course at SIO, “Biology of Fishes” was legendary. Some saw him as a bit gruff/intimidating (which he could be and, I think, took some pleasure in….., and he did not gracefully suffer fools), but Dick deeply cared about what we do, and in addition to his many published contributions to systematics and biogeography, he built one of the major fish collections  in the world. I remained close friends with Dick for all the years since I left Scripps, and I will miss him deeply. 
   - Dave Johnson, Curator, Dept. of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Fishes, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Dr. Rosenblatt seemed to know most everything. If I did not understand some technical comment, he never made fun of me. He would explain it to me so I could understand. He told great stories about his sea trips. He was very caring of his friends. I was the scientific editor at SIO, and he would teach me something new most every week. I visited him not long ago, and after a friendship of 40 years, I learned he liked football. He loved to garden...grew great tomatoes. He will be missed by his friends for his many kindnesses, great knowledge, and his wonderful cooking skills.
   - Kittie Kuhns, Scientific Editor, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

• Through the good fortune of an NSF Junior Traineeship, I spent the summer of 1962 working in the Fish Collection at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and interacting on a daily basis with Dick Rosenblatt. Yes, he could seem gruff at times, but he showed a deep and sincere kindness, and often great patience, in introducing me to the basic of ichthyology and museum collections. When I was getting ready to leave Scripps at the end of summer, Dick sat me down and in a few sentences laid out my career path— go to UCLA, work for Boyd Walker during my time there as an undergraduate, and go on to get a Ph.D. in ichthyology. I took his advice to the fullest and have enjoyed a wonderful career because of his early mentoring. One of the highlights many years later was when he and Glenda visited me at the University of Southern Mississippi and I was able to show him the USM Museum of Ichthyology. He was a great person and will truly be missed.
  - Stephen T. Ross, Ph.D., Curator Emeritus of Fishes, Museum of Southwestern Biology & Adjunct Professor of Biology, University of New Mexico

• When I first arrived at Scripps as a graduate student I planned on studying Phycology.  However I soon realized that my true passion was studying fishes.  I asked Dick about his willingness to take me on as his graduate student and fortunately he said yes.  That agreement was a godsend.  Dick became a close mentor and friend.  His "Biology of Fishes" course was amazing.  Students learned so much about fish biology.  As an added bonus, we also were allowed and encouraged to roam around the "Marine Vertebrates Collection."  The most incredible thing about Dick was the depth and breadth of his knowledge.  He could and did guide graduate student research in systematics, ecology, physiology, genetics, etc.  Dick's guidance and mentorship along with the interaction and camaraderie of his graduate students provided all of us with superior knowledge and skills.  I will remember his guidance and friendship for the rest of my life.
  - Ron Fritzsche, Professor and Curator of Fishes Emeritus, Humboldt State University

I was greatly saddened to hear that Dick had passed. He was a mentor, inspiration and friend to all of his students. His ichthyology seminars were a place where students could interact with him and fellow students in a casual but in depth discussion of various topics related to fish biology. He taught his students to question everything including the current literature. He expected the best from us, and we tried to live up to his standards. Our lives were enriched from knowing him.
  - Dr. John Butler

• I was fascinated with deep ocean robotic imaging systems built in the style of Scripps professor John Isaacs. I studied Isaacs' published work in great detail. Though using new flotation, housing materials, lighting and digital cameras, the systems were true progeny of the original Isaacs Monster Cameras. Being an ocean engineer, I took several of my first digital images to Dick Rosenblatt to identify some of the sea creatures in the field of view. I still smile when I recall one of the best compliments I've ever received, "Kevin, dammit, you made the same mistake John Isaacs did." My photographs were from above, and the observer could only see the dorsal side of the fish. At Dick's behest, and as John had done, I changed the camera angle to take the lateral or side view of benthic animals from then on. Dick was certainly one of the most beloved and treasured people at Scripps, and it will seem a bit emptier without him.
  - Kevin Hardy, Scripps Oceanography (retired-sort of), 1972-2011

Related Image Gallery: Richard Rosenblatt in photos

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