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Marine Life Diversity 

And the wildly imaginative hula skirt

My imaginary friend heard me call him a wacky conspiracy theorist. But he's a good imaginary friend so we had a long heart-to-heart. I suggested that his critical thinking could be better if he had more diversity and inclusion among his own imaginary friends.

But before replacing his group of imaginary middle-aged white guys with individuals from a variety of cultural backgrounds, ages, orientations, etc., he wanted to test each group's creativity and problem solving. So to prove my point, I suggested each group design an imaginary sea creature and I would judge which was most plausible.

The old white guys were fast. Their creature was cigar shaped with red face like a lit cigar and, when threatened, it produced a smoke screen like a cigar. They called it a sea cigar.

I was impressed by how quickly they agreed with each other – but I was unimpressed by their creature.

My imaginary friend's new diversity group appeared.

A 98-year-old farmer and great-grandmother named Balakubak, who lost a leg in the Mount Pinatubo eruption, served as the group's spokesperson.

Balakubak said, "We initially decided we wanted tentacles but couldn't agree on what kind."

The Army captain said, "I advocated for a strong defense — an outer barrier of tentacles with nasty stingers."

The mid-career salaryman from Tokyo said, "Her idea of defensive tentacles served only a single purpose. I envisioned multi-purpose tentacles that could hunt, digest or reproduce — each segment doing a job for the good of the body."

"And the creature's body should pulse rhythmically and wear beautiful colors," said the apprentice Malian tailor.

Balakubak said, "After much debate, we decided on a gelatinous creature with both kinds of tentacles."

The former poet laureate of the Humboldt County Jail said, "The vesper call of the soothing bell buoy floating off Humboldt Bay ...."

The Argentine mechanical engineer said, "I don't know what that means, sister, but pulsing bells could provide directional propulsion. And if you added a float with buoyancy control, then the creature could move in any direction in search of prey."

Balakubak said, "We also put a tiny red hat on the float just to baffle scientists and went with a peach/mango color palate for the defensive tentacles."

Then Balakubak grew solemn and added, "Thinking of my village before the eruption, I wanted each part of the creature to be an individual with a trade. My partners here allowed me this."

I said, "So you don't propose a single animal made of organs? You want your creature's body to be made up of individual siblings that arise from one parent to build a complete cooperative system? For example, the swimming bells are each an individual animal, as would be the float."

"Yep," said Balakubak. "It takes a village."

"Wow!" I said. "You all have just perfectly described the very real hula skirt siphonophore (Physophora hydrostatica)!"

"Yay!" they said.

I explained, "They are related to Portuguese man o' wars and by-the-wind sailors. I found two of them washed up on Mad River Beach in 2017. They are a very rare visitor to Humboldt beaches!"

"So we beat the sea cigar?" asked Balakubak.

"Definitely! But I have one question. Why didn't you keep one of the imaginary middle-aged white guys to contribute to the diversity of your group?"

Everyone looked away or stared at their feet.

Finally Balakubak said, "We wondered why you were on the team but did not contribute sea creature ideas. Plus, if you're real, how exactly are you here in our imaginary presence speaking with us? Check your head, man."

I couldn't find my imaginary friend in there anywhere. "Noooooooo!" I cried.

Biologist Mike Kelly writes science-based satire as M. Sid Kelly on Amazon.

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