Published Oct 15, 2021
Below Deck with Lower Decks: Cetacean Ops
The one with the beluga whales!
By Dayton Ward
It’s been a short road, getting from there to here.
How are we already at the second season finale of Star Trek: Lower Decks? Wasn’t it just the other day when we were talking about Commander Ransom and his “Strange Energies,” amirite?
These shows. They grow up so fast.
In “First First Contact,” the Cerritos crew finds itself forced to remove the ship’s magnetic outer hull plating in order to navigate through a radiation-laced debris field to rescue the damaged U.S.S. Archimedes. Working around the clock, the crew manages to free all but a single piece of hull plating. It can be disengaged with a manual override, but the controls for that are located in one of the ship’s hardest-to-reach areas: Cetacean Ops. Someone has to swim down to the manual release lever, and of course that someone is Ensign Boimler.
But, wait. What’s this “Cetacean Ops” they’re on about?
Simply put, it’s an area aboard many Starfleet vessels where the ship’s navigation is assisted by crewmembers representing various cetacean species. From Earth, this usually means whales and bottlenose dolphins. In the 24th Century, these seafaring creatures are renowned for their navigational acumen and considered sentient, working in concert with the crew as well as the ship’s guidance and flight control systems.
While never seen on-screen until this episode, “Cetacean Ops” is mentioned in the first Star Trek: Lower Decks episode, “Second Contact.” However, it’s also referenced in two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and “The Perfect Mate,” and the idea goes all the way back to the earliest days of that series.
The show’s senior production illustrator and designer Rick Sternbach, along with scenic art supervisor Michael Okuda, put forth this notion in the book they co-wrote, the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual, published in 1991. Sternbach, depicted the facility’s location on Decks 13 and 14 aboard Galaxy-class starships in his own 1996 publication, the Star Trek: The Next Generation U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-D Blueprints. According to Sternbach, the idea was something he had from the start, but it was never shown due to budget and technical realities of 1980s television production.
While we never got to meet any of the Enterprise’s cetacean crewmembers, Lower Decks viewers now know Kimolu and Matt, the two beluga whales overseeing this vital aspect of keeping the Cerritos and its crew safe as they traverse the final frontier. Will we see them again?
:: shakes Magic 8-Ball ::
“Reply hazy. Ask again next season.”