A budding scientist gets her feet wet.

Holly Bourbon '87 (l) with Chynna Taylor '17 (r) at the National Aquarium.

By Keely Savoie

Defending shy sharks from a marauding giant sea turtle was just one of the challenges Chynna Taylor ’16 took on at the National Aquarium in Baltimore during January term.

Her daily tasks included monitoring the temperature of the tanks, using long poles to feed the massive stingrays, and preparing nearly 20 pounds of lettuce a day to feed Calypso, the giant sea turtle. Calypso also enjoyed brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes—and the occasional purloined squid. She snatched these from the blacktip reef sharks as they were fed, scattering the skittish predators to the corners of the tank.

“She was supposed to be a vegetarian, but nobody told her that,” said Taylor. “We just had to wait for her to get out of the way.”

The previous summer, Taylor had decided to apply for an internship at the National Aquarium to round out her experience and education. As a biology major with a minor in coastal and marine sciences, Taylor collaborated with Associate Professor of Biology Renae Brodie, contributing to Brodie’s research on geographically shifting fiddler crab populations. But working in the aquarium would be a completely new experience.

“I am interested in working with wildlife and animal husbandry, and I wanted to get more of a background in marine sciences,” she said.

It was a bit of serendipity that helped her make the initial connection with the National Aquarium. In the fall, Taylor saw an article on Mount Holyoke’s website about Curator of Fishes Holly Bourbon, who graduated from Mount Holyoke in 1987. The connection inspired her to contact Bourbon to learn more.

“I saw the article, emailed her, and the rest was history,” said Taylor.

Bourbon put Taylor in touch with the internship coordinator to begin the application process. Shortly after, Taylor was selected for the position.

While at the aquarium, Taylor had the opportunity to meet Bourbon in person.

“I asked her about her path and what led her here, and she said it was an internship at the New England Aquarium during her time at Mount Holyoke,” said Taylor.

The two also discovered that they took classes with the same professor, two decades apart.

Now back at Mount Holyoke for her final semester, Taylor recently wrote about her experiences at the aquarium for a College blog. She also is working on a formal paper about the internship, taking classes in conservation biology, statistics, Italian, and West African dance.

Brodie, the professor with whom Taylor collaborated on research before the internship, noted that Taylor has grown tremendously through her experiences and studies.

“It has been wonderful watching her develop as a scientist,” Brodie said.

Taylor still is considering her plans after graduation, including the possibility of working at an aquarium.

“It’s something I’d definitely like to pursue in the future,” she said. “You have to work really hard. It takes a lot of work to get to your dream job.”

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