Cetacean Ops is supposed to be a facility aboard the Enterprise-D which, though referred to only twice — in the episodes “The Perfect Mate” and “Yesterday’s Enterprise” — has spoken to the imagination of fans ever since Rick Sternbach and Michael Okuda included it in their Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual (1991) as containing dolphins.
It is stated in the Manual that guidance and navigation research is conducted by a cetacean crew of twelve Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus gilli), who are supervised by two Takaya’s Whales (Orcinus orca takayai).
The “Takaya’s Whale” is not an actual species; the name is a homage to the fictional character “Noriko Takaya” in the Japanese animated series Aim For The Top! Gunbuster in which “espers and electronic-brained [bottlenose] dolphins” navigate a spaceship.
According to Sternbach, the area was never shown on screen “since the expense would have been prohibitive, but we did convince the writers to have Geordi [LaForge] ask a visiting official if they ever saw the dolphins.”
The facility was his idea from the start. “I’m convinced,” he writes in the Manual, “that, even if they’re not intelligent enough to pilot a starship, they can still teach us a few things about other life forms.”
From October through December 2005, Andrew Probert, who was Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s senior illustrator during its first season, worked with Perpetual Entertainment to design previously unseen interiors of a Galaxy-class starship for Star Trek Online. The project went in a different direction, but Probert’s designs still give us a glimpse of what could have been.
Sources for this story include: Andrew Probert, “Perpetual Entertainment,” Probert Designs; Rick Sternbach, Star Trek: The Next Generation U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-D Blueprints (1996); and Rick Sternbach and Michael Okuda, Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual (1991)