MMSC/Bob Schoelkopf has retired as founding director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine.

BRIGANTINE – The Marine Mammal Stranding Center announced that the nonprofit organization’s long-time founding Executive Director Bob Schoelkopf has retired. Bob’s decision to retire will bring to a close a remarkable 53-year career of working with marine mammals. 

“Bob’s tireless efforts to protect, defend, treat, release and learn from every animal he encountered helped set national standards for working with these animals, impacting the general public’s understanding, appreciation, and respect for marine animals. That’s a wonderful legacy.” Veterinarian and MMSC Board Member Dr. Ginny Pierce said.

The vision for what would become the Marine Mammal Stranding Center started with one small whale in need. On March 23, 1976, a young pygmy sperm whale was stranded in Atlantic City in front of Convention Hall. The 1500-pound whale was suffering from lacerations and bruises from struggling in the surf. Schoelkopf, who at the time was the manager at Steel Pier, was among the experts that were called in to assist.  With the help of veterinarians and first responders, U.S. Coast Guard personnel slid an inflatable raft under the injured animal and floated it to the Coast Guard base, as Schoelkopf tended to the whale inside the raft. A crane was used to carefully hoist the whale and Schoelkopf into a Coast Guard wet storage tank filled with seawater. And so began the intensive round-the-clock care of the injured whale, named “Semper Paratus” (the Coast Guard motto “Always Ready”). Schoelkopf stayed by SP’s side, caring for him day and night as the team of biologists, veterinarians, and off-duty Coast Guardsmen all worked together to provide supportive care to the ailing whale. Despite their ground-breaking efforts, SP lost his fight and succumbed to his injuries three days later. 

From SP’s tragic loss was born the idea that a great need existed for an organization that could help stranded, sick, and injured marine mammals and sea turtles in New Jersey. Two years later in March of 1978, Schoelkopf founded the Marine Mammal Stranding Center. 

What started as an idea inspired by one stranding nearly 47 years ago has become New Jersey’s only organization dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of marine mammals in the State of New Jersey, which, to date, has responded to more than 5,880 marine mammals and sea turtles.

As founding director emeritus, Schoelkopf will maintain an advisory role with MMSC, assisting with the transition of leadership within the organization. Sheila Dean will be his successor. Dean has been with the nonprofit since its founding in 1978, serving as co-director.  MMSC Education and Volunteer Coordinator Michele Pagel will be assistant director. 

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Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

Award winning journalist covering news, events and people of Atlantic County for more than 20 years.