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Scott G Winterton, Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Hogle Zoo received its newest arrival as Big Guy, an 850-pound sea lion, arrives and was put in a holding tank Friday, May 4, 2012. Big Guy died Monday, July 8, 2013, of a tumor.
The staff is grieving big-time. —Dr. Nancy Carpenter

SALT LAKE CITY — Hogle Zoo trainers say Big Guy was a very trusting "gentle giant" and a huge part of their lives.

The blind California sea lion died Monday. Following a necropsy, zoo officials discovered the sea lion had an aggressive cancerous tumor that had metastasized.

"The staff is grieving big-time," said Dr. Nancy Carpenter, associate director of animal health at Hogle Zoo.

In the days leading up to Big Guy's death, Carpenter said the sea lion stopped eating and wasn't acting like himself.

"He usually trains with the keepers six times a day," she said.

When he didn't, zoo personnel said they knew Big Guy wasn't feeling well.

Because of natural instincts to deter predators, Carpenter said it's hard to know when exotic animals are sick.

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"You really want to look good until you can't pull it off any longer," she said. "That's basically what Big Guy did."

Big Guy, who was estimated to be in his early 20s, came to Hogle Zoo a little more than a year ago from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif. Carpenter said it was unusual because most adult sea lions are put down.

"His personality caught their hearts as quickly as it did ours," she said.

Big Guy was a huge part of Rocky Shores, the zoo's largest exhibit, featuring bears, sea lions, seals and otters, Carpenter said. Big Guy was one of three sea lions in the exhibit.

— Emilee Eagar