Mary Alice McWhinnie

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Mary Alice McWhinnie
Mary Alice McWhinnie (1922-1980) - DePaul University - 1962 - (2).jpg
Born (1922-08-10)August 10, 1922
Chicago, Illinois
Died March 17, 1980(1980-03-17) (aged 57)
Citizenship United States
Nationality USA
Fields Biology
Institutions DePaul University
Alma mater Bsc DePaul University
PhD Northwestern University
Known for Biology of Krill

Mary Alice McWhinnie (August 10, 1922 – March 17, 1980) was an American biologist, professor at DePaul University and an authority on krill from Chicago, Illinois[1][2] She was the first woman to sail for two months in Antarctic waters aboard the NSF's research vessel, USNS Eltanin.[3] The National Science Foundation eventually allowed her to winter over at McMurdo Station and in 1974, she became the first American woman to serve as chief scientist at an Antarctic research station.[2][4]

Education and early career[edit]

Mary Alice McWhinnie received her bachelor's and master's degrees in biology from DePaul University in 1944 and 1946. She began teaching at DePaul University in 1946 in the Department of Biological Sciences as a Graduate Assistant and was its chairman from 1966 to 1968.[1] She received her doctorate from Northwestern University in 1952.[5]

Scientific career[edit]

In 1962, she and her research assistant, Phyllis Marciniack, were selected by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to sail for two months on the USNS Eltanin (Cruise 6, 24 November 1962 – 23 January 1963) in the Antarctic. Their plan was to study “the relation of water temperature to the physiology of molting crustaceans,”[6] namely, how krills’ physiology and how it managed to thrive in such an extreme environment.[4]

She completed four cruises on the Eltanin in 1965, 1967, 1969 and 1970 making her the first woman scientist to sail Antarctic waters. Duke University introduced a cooperative oceanographic program at the Marine Laboratory with Dr. McWhinnie in 1965. The program was sponsored by the NSF and available to Duke and other cooperating universities including Paul, City College of New York, Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, and the Universities of Tennessee.[7]

In 1972, she was appointed the first female chief scientist on the Eltanin. Until 1969, United States’ Antarctic programs were all male but in 1974, McWhinnie and her research assistant, Sister Mary Odile Cahoon were the first women scientists to overwinter at McMurdo Station, Antarctica with 128 men.[8] And during the 1975-76 summer season, was the first female scientist to work at Palmer Station. Her career included eleven trips to the Antarctic, more than fifty published scientific papers, and many presentations of research findings.[4] In the 1977-78 and 1978-70 summers, McWhinnie succeeded in keeping krill alive in a flow-through seawater tank. During the observation, they found that krill become smaller and less sexually mature in appearance after spawning, a phenomenon called "regression". She determined this was a result of the animals having to swim constantly with limited food supply in winter.[9]

She spent the three years before her death in 1980, traveling internationally, lecturing on various aspects of krill, and amassing an extensive bibliography.[10] She died from a brain tumor on March 17, 1980.[1]


Her studies focused on krill in the Antarctic. She studied krill’s physiology, distribution, habits, and a role as a food source contributes to the current study of climate change and pollution and how these affect marine life food chain.[4]


Honored with an Antarctic mountain peak, McWhinnie Peak. Mary Alice McWhinnie Marine Science Center at Palmer Station is also named in her honor.[4] She was posthumously awarded DePaul University’s highest faculty honor, the Via Sapientiae Award, for her dedication to teaching and scientific accomplishments in June 1980.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d "Finding Aid for Mary Alice McWhinnie Faculty Papers" (PDF). Retrieved 28 April 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "Mary Alice McWhinnie Collections Record". Smithsonian Institution Archives Collection Website. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  3. ^ In Celebration of Women's History Month, McWhinnie First Woman to Sail in Antarctic Waters
  4. ^ a b c d e Ellen, Alers (March 10, 2011). "Little Things Mean a Lot". Smithsonian Institution Archives. Retrieved 28 April 2015. 
  5. ^ Obituary:Mary Alice McWhinnie
  6. ^ "Palmer Station History, pre-1975". Retrieved 28 April 2015. 
  7. ^ "Eastward Ho!". Duke Alumni Register. 41 (7). 1965. Retrieved 28 April 2015. 
  8. ^ Cornelia, Dean (1998). "After a Struggle, Women Win A Place 'on the Ice'; In Labs and in the Field, a New Outlook". Retrieved 28 April 2015. 
  9. ^ Shapley, Deborah (2013). The Seventh Continent: Antarctica in a Resource Age. Routledge. p. 121. ISBN 1135993866. 
  10. ^ Frank, Truesdale (1993). History of Carcinology. CRC Press. p. 198. ISBN 9054101377. 

Further reading[edit]

  • McWinnie, M.A. Euphausiacea Bibliography : a World Literature Survey (1981), Pergamon Press