Rich Ross

Actually, I’m an atheist

We Wanna Be Friends With: Cal Academy’s Cephalopod Expert Rich Ross

By Sarah Medina on March 19, 2014 6:00 PM

Our city is chock-full of interesting people and wild personalities. Overwhelmed by the coolness? Every week we’ll pick one standout local we’d love to be friends with to answer seven essential questions about their life in the Bay Area.

As a Senior Aquarium Biologist at the California Aacademy of Sciences, it’s Richard Ross’ job to hang out with cool marine life all day. Ross cares for a diverse array of creatures at the museum, from corals and octopuses to Claude, SF’s beloved albino alligator, and a typical day at work involves making sure everything goes smoothly in the word’s deepest coral reef display. You’ve probably seen the colorful 212,000-gallon tank filled with thousands of tropical fishes and corals at Cal Academy, but it’s Ross’ job to make sure all those little guys stay happy and healthy. Ross is also a renowned cephalopod expert – that’s cuttlefish, squid, and octopuses – and he’s made scientific breakthroughs in both breeding and dispaying. Thanks to his efforts, Cal Academy is now the only aquarium to display the rare Pacific striped octopus! Needless to say, he’s got a pretty cool gig.

Although he’s a lifelong aquarium hobbyist – he kept tanks with his father throughout his childhood and spent his high school years working in pet and aquarium shops – Rich Ross has a few other tricks up his sleeve. For 15 years, Ross performed across the country as a professional juggler, entertaining crowds at more than 500 shows per year before deciding to become a stay-at-home dad when his daughter was born. He began volunteering at the Academy’s Steinhart Aquarium, and ultimately signed on as a full-time staff biologist as the Academy prepared to open its brand new facility in 2008. His resume also includes, improvisor, glass blower, rider of horses, and double black belt.

Thanks Rich for taking some time away from the sea animals to answer our We Wanna Be Friends With Q&A!

1. What neighborhood do you currently call home? Would you ever move or are you happy in your ‘hood?  

The East End of Alameda. I love the island, and try not to leave it (as you’ll notice in my quick fire round responses). I can do just about everything I love to do on the island—martial arts, glass blowing, seeing what lives under rocks at the beach, listen to owls at night. I really like it when murders of crows come through. I love our house, reef tank in the living room, fish and cephalopod breeding in my ‘secret home lab,’ chickens in the yard, naked cats, and my daughter has a bedroom, too. Somewhere…I think it might be upstairs. We are walking distance from restaurants, shopping and entertainment on Park Street. Great. Great. Great. I suppose we would move if we ever won big time lottery money, but if that happened we would probably also keep the current house because we like it so much.

2. What’s your hands-down, absolute favorite thing to eat in the East Bay?

Sushi at Yume. Fresh food, three seatings a night with only 8 people a seating, and they stopped putting out soy sauce because they got tired of people overpowering the taste of the food by drowning it in condiments. Spectacular food, prepared simply but with virtuosity. They only seat parties of two as well, so it’s great for me and the wife. And, since they are a small family-owned restaurant more interested in quality than quantity, they don’t over buy or waste food.

3. What’s your perfect night on the town?

Walk to dinner at American Oak on Santa Clara Avenue, a good movie at the theatre, some sort of frozen dessert, running into people we like, and then holding hands on the way home.

4. When you need a low-key afternoon, where do you go for down time?

The living room. We have this furniture that can be pushed together to be like a king-sized bed, so we push that together, me, the wife and kid pile on, snuggle, wrestle and watch some good storytelling on TV, like Doctor Who, a Miyazaki movie or something by Wes Anderson. Or we just read.

5. What’s your favorite place to go on a day trip from Alameda?

Whale watching out of Moss Landing with Sanctuary Cruises. Nice boat that runs on biofuel and the area is more easily accessible and less touristy than other whale watch places.

6. Quick-fire round:

Burrito or Burger?


Fenton’s or Ici Ice Cream?


Lake Merritt or Lake Temescal?

Robert Crown Memorial State Beach

The Paramount or The Fox Theater?   


Bakesale Betty’s or Brown Sugar Kitchen? 

Ole’s Waffle Shop

First Fridays or The Oakland Museum?

Oakland Museum

Shopping on Telegraph or in Temescal? 

Park Street

7. Three words that describe your life in Alameda?

Small-Town, Big-City, Family

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