Starfleet employs dolphins in their starship navigation systems, which sounds very much like property. This seems contradictory if they are considered sentient

In The Perfect Mate Geordi takes the Ferengi merchant Par Lenor to see the dolphins in their catacean ops center. This is where the bottleneose dolphins (tursiops truncatus) work as "navigation specialists."

LAFORGE: Listen, have you had a chance to see the dolphins yet? This is something you really just don't want to miss!

The way Geordi talks about them doesn't seem respectful. Would he also say, "Have you had a chance to see the vulcans yet?" It seems more appropriate to say "have you met the dolphins yet" if they were respected sentient beings.

Yet in this same episode Riker is openly upset at the idea that the Krios were transporting a sentient being, Kamala, as property to be exchanged in peace talks between Valt and Krios:

KAMALA: It is not complicated at all, Briam, and the Captain has no tolerance for prevarication. I'm a gift, to Alrik of Valt.
RIKER: You mean you're using this ship to transport a sentient being as property?
BRIAM: Not as property, as a gift, and I was concerned that you might not entirely understand.
PICARD: Your concern was justified, Ambassador.
KAMALA: You're angry. Why?
PICARD: There is a provision in the Federation Constitution that protects an individual's fundamental rights.

Are dolphins sentient in Star Trek?

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    As far as I know, the dolphins in question were never actually made canonical. (Because where would they get the budget for dolphins?) I doubt there's an answer in the show proper.
    – Cadence
    Sep 28, 2019 at 15:44
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    isn't cetacean ops only referenced in the "Battle" Enterprise D in the alternate timeline from Yesterday's Enterprise? If so - then in the 'real' timeline, they just may have a dolphin tank. Nothing canon indicates any of the assumptions in the question
    – NKCampbell
    Sep 28, 2019 at 16:47
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    @NKCampbell - And in the TNG Technical Manual. Which is supposedly canon but also contains a gigantic duck; Sternbach talks about how they never made it into the ship but that he wanted to show them; memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/…
    – Valorum
    Sep 28, 2019 at 16:51
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    @NKCampbell - Regardless of the timeline dolphins are either fundamentally sentient or they are not, I believe. While "Battle Enterprise" considered them as crew and carries on conversations, that does suggest sentience. The notion that real-timeline dolphins are different bears a burden of proof.
    – Vogon Poet
    Sep 28, 2019 at 16:59
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    "The way Geordi talks about them doesn't seem respectful." - IMHO this is a rather weak assumption. "Have you had a chacne to see the Vulcans yet?" might sound inappropriate if you're thinking about seeing Vulcans for their being Vulcan, but it's totally appropriate if, for example, seeing them perform their work (without meeting them, i.e. interacting) is in any way worth watching on its own. Sep 28, 2019 at 19:15

1 Answer 1


We meet some Cetacean Ops officers in LD: First First Contact; Lieutenants (junior grade) Matt and Kimolu.

They seem pretty sentient to me.

They're also weirdly attracted to Rutherford, but that's a whole 'nother story.

  • 1
    Dolphins being attracted to people was a whole minor sub-plot in David Brin's Startide Rising
    – Peter M
    Mar 19, 2022 at 21:49

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