Carnegie Mellon University

Taylor Hersh

Taylor Hersh (S 2014)

Biological Sciences major, sea turtle healer


Caring for Injured Sea Turtles

Taylor Hersh (S’14) climbs into a plastic tank, holding a scrub brush and spray bottle filled with soap and water. The tank’s inhabitant, a loggerhead turtle named Westi, lies peacefully at the bottom, waiting for her morning bath, which starts her day as one of the patients at North Carolina’s Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center.

Hersh’s day, on the other hand, started around 7 AM, like every morning, when she and the other summer interns headed down the road to the renovated concrete garage where they care for injured sea turtles. The volunteer-run center is filled with tanks, a running water system, and walls covered with murals of underwater scenes and healthy sea turtles gliding through coral. It may be a small space, but no patient is ever turned away.

When the interns arrived, the sound of humming fans reminded them that they were in store for another sweaty morning feeding, bathing, and healing the sea turtles. After lunch, there would be another routine: The center, which no one would ever mistake for a museum, regularly conducts afternoon tours for large crowds.

As always, Hersh on her arrival headed directly for Westi’s tank. At nearly 100 pounds, Westi is no pet turtle, but in the past weeks at the center, she has become Hersh’s favorite. Westi arrived at the center soon after Hersh did. She was seriously ill from eating a mysterious plant and became covered in barnacles as a result of swimming too slowly while sick.

With a large head, characteristic of her species, and a need for special attention, Westi has Hersh wrapped around her flipper. Crouched in the tank, Hersh scrubs Westi first with soap, then with a medicated solution to remove bacteria. She scrapes away at the barnacles plastering Westi’s back. This treatment takes place daily and is slowly bringing Westi back to full health so she can be released.

Hersh, crammed into what little space Westi leaves in the tank, doesn’t daydream for a moment what an internship in a comfortable air conditioned might be like. The biology major seems very much at home in the tank, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering she plans to become a marine biologist. After the scrubbing, she climbs out, refills the tank with water, and tosses Westi her breakfast of fish and squid before moving on to another patient.

This story originally appeared in Carnegie Mellon Today. It is reprinted with permission.