‘California girl’ interns with eye toward animal conservation career

Hannah MacTaggart

Snorkling with dad led to intern Hannah MacTaggart’s interest in sea turtles.

Published: Thursday, August 7, 2014 at 01:20 PM.

Finally, the spotlight shines on our “California girl.”  Born and raised in Folsom, (but not the prison, as she was quick to point out!) Hannah MacTaggart arrived a few weeks after our other interns, so we get to keep her with us a bit longer. It’s a long commute, but as she said: “This is what I wanted to do this summer. I wanted to make a difference, and sea turtles are my favorite animals.”

Hannah’s interest in sea turtles started at an early age when she began snorkeling with her dad. She was so fascinated with these critters that she signed up for an eighth grade science trip to Costa Rica that focused on the gentle giants of sea turtles, the leatherbacks. Her work there consisted of protecting nesting mamas and catching the eggs as they were being laid. After Mom left, the eggs were buried in a protected and monitored area to guard them from poachers. 

Hannah’s previous experience was exclusively with nesting, but she quickly learned that working with sea turtles is much different once you move off the sand and into the rehab arena. It’s totally hands-on work, and when you spend every day with our patients, bathing and treating them, you naturally develop a connection. She’s especially fond of our big girl “October.” Hannah has a deep admiration for her: “She’s been through so much; she’s so tuned into your emotions that it seems she actually takes them on.” October is indeed an extraordinary turtle, and one day we’ll tell her story.

Hannah’s experience as a resident assistant at her college (Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo) has made for a seamless transition into hospital tour guide. She’s used to “touring people around and explaining things to them.” She loves relaying the stories of our patients and “seeing the looks of reality on the people’s faces when they finally understand why our turtles are here. People really care.” She breaks into a smile when little kids ask: “How did the turtle get the boo-boo?”

Hannah advises that anyone considering our internship would benefit by doing some general research into sea turtles beforehand “so that you have some insight.” Even though she followed her own advice before coming here she’s amazed at how much more she’s learned in a very short period of time. 

Hannah returns to California as a rising junior, majoring in animal science with a minor in biology. She’s considering a vet tech program after she graduates and, hopefully, a career in animal conservation. “I’d love to stay involved with sea turtles, but I love all animals!”

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