“Honestly, it’s really hard,” Rachel Munson, the aquarium’s second aquarist who has worked closely with Big Guy for seven years, said Thursday. “When I first started working at Shark Lagoon, I remember being a little bit intimidated by him…and I really love him more and more.”
“It would be really, really sad without him,” she added, considering she’s spent more time with the big guys than with her own cat at home in recent years, it’s like losing a pet pet for a long time.
Munson said she misses feeding time with Big Guy the most, and he likes to eat mullet – and occasionally some mackerel and mahi mahi. Munson said the fish would be dropped into a 6-foot-deep tank with a long grappling hook and had to be released at the right time.
“The way you can tell he’s going to eat that piece of food is that he’s going to lift his eyes and look at it,” Munson said. “And you have to put the food in the perfect spot right away because if he bites the gripper, he’s going to get very upset and go wild.”
For decades, the giant fish has been a favorite of thousands of tourists and staff, who describe him as charismatic and suave despite his commanding appearance. The big guy “challenged misconceptions about sharks” over the years, and aquarium staff shared his story with tens of millions of visitors.
“While he does look very scary, the fact that he is an ambush predator and only eats small fish shows that he is not an aggressive shark species at all,” Munson said. “In the ocean, you can dive with sand tiger sharks, which are considered one of the gentler and safer shark species.”
Big Guy first arrived in Long Beach in 2001 when he was 3 years old. Like the sand tiger shark, he matures between 6 and 7 years old, growing to 8 feet, 4 inches long and 170 pounds, Munson said. Aquarium spokeswoman Marilyn Padilla confirmed his body would be cremated.
Sand tiger sharks can live between 15 and 40 years, according to the aquarium’s website. This difference appears to be related to geographic location. In addition, Munson said female sand tiger sharks are generally larger than males and generally live longer than males.
The aquarium posted about its loss on social media Wednesday and received dozens of comments from Big Guy admirers and well-wishers, who recalled fond memories and offered their condolences to aquarium staff.
“I’ve been watching Big Guy since I was a baby when my parents took me to the aquarium for the first time,” Sam Avelar, 21, wrote in an Instagram post. “My family and I really I love seeing him and his silly smile.”
The aquarium is an important part of Avelar’s life and has always been a cozy place, she told the Post in an Instagram message. She said it was “heartbreaking” to know the big guy was gone.
Big Guy is a big part of my memory as an AOP volunteer and I have loved visiting him every time over the years! I know he’s in the best care at AOP, rest in peace, big guy 😭
— KIR☆@SHOP Updated June 10th? ! (@mg3kiryu) June 1, 2022
“I had the pleasure of meeting the big guy with my friends last summer and I was in awe of him,” Christopher Balcells wrote on Instagram.
Jacqueline Simpson wrote: “The impact Big Guy has had on many who visit the aquarium will not soon be forgotten.”
The impact goes well beyond the fool’s eye candy on the other side of the glass. Big Guy played a key role in the shark research of Lance Adams, the aquarium’s longtime veterinarian, Munson said.
Adams helped develop the pioneering ultrasound technology necessary to protect the species, Munson said. Adam’s research has led to protocols for the safety inspection of male sand tiger shark reproductive systems, which are critical to the artificial insemination process.
“While he is gone, his legacy will live on,” Munson said. “Not only among our guests who like him, but also in research and conservation.”