On certain Starfleet ships (at least the Enterprise-D and the Cerritos), there is an area (essentially a large pool) where sentient dolphins give aid in navigation. This area is called "cetacean ops". Cetacean ops and the employment of sentient dolphins is mentioned in this question.

Is there some kind of benefit to using cetaceans (dolphins in this case) for aiding in navigation? Aren't humans more than capable of doing the job? Is there some reason that dolphins are better-suited for this job? Dolphins don't have hands, which could potentially complicate things.

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    But they think in 3D unlike many humans (like Khan).
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 0:09
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    "According to the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual, the ship's dolphins work in navigation and are overseen by two whales of species Orcinus orca takayai, or Takaya's Whales. This references the 1988 anime OVA Gunbuster, where the starship Exelion uses dolphins for navigation due to their natural familiarity with moving in three dimensions; as well as the name of that series' protagonist, Noriko Takaya."
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 1:40
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    Can we have some sources or context here? Where does it say they use dolphins for navigation?
    – Darren
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 14:15
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    @SovereignInquiry You misunderstood my question. I’m not querying if mentioned cetaceans are actually dolphins or not, I’m querying where there is any mention of cetaceans being used to navigate. If this is a reference to Lower Decks (which I haven’t seen) can you add it as a tag and reference an appropriate scene or episode in the question?
    – Darren
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 18:57
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    @Darren I guess you could say [cetacean needed] ;)
    – PM 2Ring
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 20:06

2 Answers 2


The simple, necessarily out-of-universe answer is: Starfleet probably doesn't employ cetaceans. The "Cetacean Ops" bit in the TNG Technical Manual is a joke, part obvious nod to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and part something humorous put there for the kinds of people who enjoy reading incredibly dense fictional technical manuals for fun. Cetacean Ops was never directly seen or referenced on screen during TNG's run or during the four movies. (See note below.) Lower Decks, ostensibly a comedy series, is just using some "deep cut" background material to make an in-joke to that part of the audience.

Episode writers diverged from the TNG Technical Manual plenty of times on-screen. For just one off-the-cuff example: according to the TNG Technical Manual, a Type-II phaser set to maximum is supposed to release enough energy to vaporize several thousand cubic meters of rock. (Apologies for the lack of citations and exact values. My Tech Manual is in a box and unavailable at the time of writing.) And yet, the on-screen usages of the Type-II at maximum -- complete with the FX shot showing all the bars fully lit, so there was no possible alternate interpretation -- did nothing more than vaporize a person. It certainly didn't vaporize the target, everyone else in the room, the room, the phaser itself... :)

If you accept that the TNG Technical Manual is canon, then you might as well start asking about the Enterprise-D's Porsche, the giant rubber duck, the second warp core, and why Starfleet decided it was important to write portions of the Gilligan's Island theme song in illegibly small letters on various bulkhead iconography. :)

(edited to add, because I suspect this will get asked)

Note re: Geordie's "have you seen the dolphins?" line in The Perfect Mate

While I hate to question the correctness of an answer to another question, the source linked in the answer to "Are there any other sentient species on Earth in the Star Trek universe?" for Cetacean Ops does not itself cite any sources. It includes a supposed Rick Sternbach quote without context, and that is all.

Geordie's line was not "Have you seen Cetacean Ops and the dolphins who pilot our ship?", it was "Have you seen the dolphins yet?" The existence of dolphins can be explained away by any number of necessarily hypothetical answers, because that is literally the only on-screen line about that in the episode dialogue.

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    Per my comment above, the origin of "cetacean ops" was the mispronunciation of "station ops", and not a reference to ST:IV, although the presence of whales in the film canon probably led to people's misapprehension about what they just heard
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 18:18
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    You don't consider Lower Decks to be canon then? Yes, it is more comedic that the other shows, but everything appears to be in-line with post-DS9 canon.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 21:51
  • Lower Decks is garbage. Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 2:46

That comes down to "The Voyage Home" and their Trek-Lore connection to Aliens. I.E. They have an un-replicatable instinct that allows them to know where they are as no computer or human can. Their job is probably a combination of correction when the computer get's confused, and figuring out where a starship is when they're REALLY far out. That's why a federation ship is virtually never "lost" so to speak. It was probably cetaceans who figured out where Enterprise was during the first encounter with the Borg, and allowed Voyager to know they where "THAT" far away from home, along with which direction to go.

P.S. In both instances, I suspect the Dolphins/Whales where all singing, "What the hell just happened out there!?" One sec they're in familiar space, the next they warp a distance that shouldn't be logically possible, even by their standards!

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F. Do you have any references to support this?
    – DavidW
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 1:22
  • Yes, this all seems quite reasonable, but you've not offered a lick of evidence to back it up
    – Valorum
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 9:30

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