Kerry Whittaker


My name is Kerry Whittaker, and I am a PhD Student at the University of Rhode Island, Graduate School of Oceanography.  I study the remarkable molecular diversity of phytoplankton.  Phytoplankton are the primary producers of our ocean ecosystem; free-floating unicellular marine plants. By absorbing sunlight and carbon dioxide, phytoplanktonic organisms fix energy that supports oceanic life. They are important not only for supplying energy to upper trophic levels, but as an important step in the global carbon cycle. My research focuses on diatoms, a type of particularly productive phytoplankton.  I use DNA to tell who’s related to whom, despite the fact that individual diatoms of the same species may appear to be identical under the microscope.  Doing so allows me to ask interesting questions about how diatom populations are connected throughout the global ocean, and what environmental and physical factors contribute to their vast diversity and ecological success.

On this cruise, I am excited to be identifying the Krill “prey field,” or the krill’s menu daily menu.  Doing so will allow us to compare the phytoplankton and zooplankton present in water to what the krill are eating.  With this comparison, we can tell if the krill are selectively eating only their favorite foods, or if they are generalists, consuming whatever food is available.  I will also be generating cultures of phytoplankton, filtering water for DNA extraction, and germinating resting spores (diatom “seeds” that lay dormant in the sediment for up to 100 years!) from sedimentary cores.

I love going to sea–it brings to the surface the creativity and excitement of being an oceanographer.  I’m looking forward to the sights, the wildlife, the new scientific endeavors, collaborative relationships, and unexpected wonders that I’m sure this cruise will bring!


10 thoughts on “Kerry Whittaker

  1. Sounds exciting! Bon Voyage!!

  2. Sammy

    Good luck! I can’t wait to learn about all of the discoveries that you will make.

  3. Ms. Gibson

    My name is Ms. Gibson and I teach in the same building with your cousin Diane. My first grade class and I are excited about your cruise and we wish you good luck with all your experiments.

    • Thank you! Feel free to have your students ask questions–just post as a comment on the blog. Thanks for following us!

  4. Mary O'Neil

    Hi Kerry,
    I know I have told you before, but you are truly amazing, determined, and fearlessly adventurous. We are so proud of you! I love the way we can access what you are doing(something about Spongbob, according to Liam!).The kids think you are very famous. I will try to speak with Mary Kate’s science teacher about asking the kids for questions-it would be a great way to learn. We love you, and you are in our prayers. Mary, Bill, Mary Kate, & Liam

  5. Maureen

    Hi Kerry,
    I hope that all is well. My class was wondering how the conditons are at sea. We are following your blog and have lots of questions that are chomping at the bit to ask. The students have brainstormed a list so many of the questions have to wait until you arrive at your destination.
    Travel safe.
    Auntie Mo

    • Hi Auntie Mo,
      The conditions are calm now, but we’re still on the shelf, in the shelter of Argentina. Later tonight, we’ll be heading across the Drake Passage, where we may see much bigger seas (30-40ft waves?!). We’ll see how it goes. Many of us have taken sea-sickness medication just in case. We have ship e-mail addresses now. Feel free to have your students either post questions to the blog, or e-mail me directly. My ship address is listed in my automatic gmail reply.
      I look forward to hearing from you, and getting questions from your students!

  6. Karen Finnegan.

    Hi Kerry -work friend of your Mom. This is so exciting and interesting! How fortunate you are to be able to participate in this adventure. Best of luck with your research! Does krill oil have more health benefits than ordinary fish oil? Take good care.

  7. Gary

    Keep an eye out for the Giant Petrel. A magnificent scavenger with a 6 ft wingspan. You won’t see these in Rhode Island! Good luck with Drake Passage.

  8. Carrie ONeil-Smith

    Hi Kerry! How exciting! It sounds like a wonderful trip! I wish you a safe return filled with lots of interesting research to write about when you get back. LOTS of love from all of us – Aunt Carrie, Uncle Rich, Andrew & Julie xoxox

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