Confessions of a Shark Kisser

Aquarium Operations Manager José Bacallao, aka the Shark Kisser, is also the person responsible for the care of all live exhibits at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.

I love sharks. I know I am not alone in saying this. I know a ton of people that love sharks. My daughters love sharks, many of my friends love sharks and for the tens of thousands of kids who visit me at Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, I hope you love them too! I know that my mother does not love sharks but that’s just silly. This love affair with sharks started when I was a kid, probably after seeing “Jaws.” There are more than 400 different species of shark and I love them all. We work hard at Heal the Bay and at our Aquarium to protect sharks and other sea creatures that live in our Bay. Last year I got to see my first white shark, “The Landlord,” while SUP-ing off Hermosa Beach. Then I got to see another on the 4th of July, and I’ll admit it: I shed a tiny tear. A grown man crying on his SUP with The Landlord cruising by. It was such a thing of beauty.

And they are cute, yes, cute. Sharks are cute, especially baby sharks, the “pups.” That’s what we call them, pups. No, I don’t always get teary when I see a shark pup. Sometimes I just get silly and do silly things — like this one time when I was SCUBA diving with my friend Jackie Cannata. She loves sharks too by the way. We were diving off Catalina Island and I saw this very tiny horn shark pup. It must have been about five or six inches long, as big as the palm of your hand. Then I did something I am quite embarrassed about – something I recommend you never do. I picked up the baby horn shark and I kissed it. I kissed the shark right on its head and then I gently let it swim away. 

I cannot imagine what that little shark thought about its first kiss — but I loved it. I won’t do it again. I promise to hold back, because honestly I’m pretty sure that horn shark was pretty upset about the whole incident. So I encourage you to love sharks as much as possible but try to restrain yourself when you feel a “Kiss Attack” coming on. If you are in need of your shark “fix” then I very much encourage you to visit us at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, where you’ll get an up close encounter with horn sharks, swell sharks and leopard sharks. See you soon and feel free to ask for me by name — the Shark Kisser!

Close out Shark Week with a chomp this Sunday at the Aquarium: Shark feeding is at 3:30!