Artistic representation of Sandra Mansi's 1977 photograph of the Lake Champlain Monster. Illustration by Benjamin Radford.
|Sub grouping||Lake Monster / Sea Serpent|
|Other name(s)||Lake Champlain Monster, Champtanystropheus americansus|
|Country||United States, Canada|
Champ or Champy is the name given to a reputed lake monster living in Lake Champlain, a 125-mile (201 km)-long body of fresh water shared by New York and Vermont, with a portion extending into Quebec, Canada. While there have been numerous reported sightings, scientific evidence is still lacking. Therefore, there is skepticism of the cryptid's existence. The legend of the monster is considered a draw for tourism in the Burlington, Vermont and Plattsburgh, New York areas.
History of the legend
Over the years, there have been over 300 reported sightings of Champ. Legends of a creature living in Lake Champlain date back to Native American tribes in the region. Both the Iroquois and the Abenaki spoke of such a creature. The Abenaki referred to it as "Tatoskok".
Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Québec and the lake's namesake, is often claimed to be the first European to have sighted Champ, in 1609. However, this legend dates back to a fake quote published in the Summer 1970 issue of Vermont Life. In the Vermont Life article, Champlain is alleged to have documented a "20-foot serpent thick as a barrel, and a head like a horse." This quote has often been repeated, but is in fact apocryphal. Champlain did document monstrous, "five feet long" fish in his journal. He described the fish as having snouts and a "double row of very sharp, dangerous teeth." However, paranormal researcher Joe Nickell writes that this description most likely refers to a gar (or garfish).
An 1819 report in the Plattsburgh Republican, entitled "Cape Ann Serpent on Lake Champlain", reports a "Capt. Crum" sighting an enormous serpentine monster. Crum estimated the monster to have been about 187-feet long and approximately two hundred yards away from him. Despite the great distance, he claimed to have witnessed it being followed by "two large Sturgeon and a Bill-fish" and was able to see that it had three teeth and eyes the color of peeled onions. He also described the monster as having "a belt of red" around its neck and a white star on its forehead.
In 1883, Sheriff Nathan H. Mooney claimed that he had seen a water serpent about "20 rods" from where he was on the shore. He claimed that he was so close that he could see "round white spots inside its mouth" and that "the creature appeared to be about 25 to 30 feet in length". Mooney's sighting led to many more alleged eyewitnesses coming forward with their own accounts of Champ.
In 1977, Sandra Mansi took a photograph while on vacation with her family that appears to show something sticking out of the lake. The entire bay of the lake where the photograph reportedly was taken is no deeper than 14 feet (4.3 m). According to Joe Nickell, it is unlikely that a giant creature could swim, let alone hide, in such shallow water. It has been suggested that the object in the photograph could possibly be a rising tree trunk or log.
Champ reportedly can be seen in a video taken by fishermen Dick Affolter and his stepson Pete Bodette in the summer of 2005. Close examination of the images may be interpreted either as a head and neck of a plesiosaur-like animal and even an open mouth in one frame and a closed mouth in another; or as a fish or eel. Although two retired FBI forensic image analysts, who reviewed the tape, said it appears authentic and unmanipulated, one of them added that "there's no place in there that I can actually see an animal or any other object on the surface".
One piece of evidence, though not a "sighting" per se, is the recording of sounds from within the lake by the Fauna Communications Research Institute in 2003, working as part of a Discovery Channel program. The group described the sounds as being similar to those produced by Beluga whales or dolphins—neither of which are known to live in Lake Champlain.
There are many different hypotheses for the true nature of Champ. While some believe the sightings may be misidentifications, hoaxes, or a combination of the two, others believe Champ could in fact be a large creature hiding in the lake.
Misidentifications or hoaxes
Several popular hypotheses among skeptics are:
1. Misidentifications of common animals: Some skeptics propose that Champ sightings are merely misidentifications of common animals that live in Lake Champlain, such as otters, beavers, diving birds, and large fish (such as eels and lake sturgeon).
2. Misidentifications of inanimate objects: Others believe that Champ sightings could easily be explained by numerous nonliving phenomena, such as logs, waves, or rotting vegetation.
3. Hoaxes: Another skeptical hypothesis is that several Champ sightings could possibly be explained as deliberate hoaxes, presumably for money or fame.
Exotic species of large animals
Believers in Champ often cite various examples of large and exotic creatures that the creature could be. These include:
1. Plesiosaurs: Similar to "Nessie" of Loch Ness in Scotland, many people theorize that Champ is a surviving Plesiosaur. Plesiosaurs were a group of Sauropterygian reptiles that lived during the Mesozoic Era, and are thought to have died out around 65 million years ago with Pterosaurs and non-avian dinosaurs. There are, however, a few problems with this hypothesis. One flaw with this hypothesis is that new studies have shown that the neck anatomy of plesiosaurs probably prevented them from raising their heads and necks up out of the water like a Swan, as is often depicted in several sightings and photographs of Champ, including the famous Sandra Mansi photograph. However, proponents of this hypothesis such as the British cryptozoologist Dr. Karl P.N. Shuker, defend this hypothesis by arguing that a surviving plesiosaur might possibly have evolved an ability to tolerate colder temperatures, as well as a different neck structure.
2. Basilosaurus: Perhaps the most prominent supporter of this hypothesis is cryptozoologist Roy P. Mackal, who is of the opinion that most lake monster sightings around the world can be explained as sightings of surviving Basilosaurus. Also known as Zeuglodons, or Basilosaurs, were large, ancient, serpentine whales that lived during the Eocene Epoch. The shape of their bodies appears to fit most descriptions of Champ, especially the ones which describe it as looking like a gigantic sea serpent and the echo-location recorded would be consistent with its whale/mammal classification.
3. Giant Eel: This is also one of the most popular explanations for reports of lake monsters. A Giant Eel would appear to fit well with several of the eyewitness descriptions of Champ. A hypothetical, thick-bodied eel was proposed by Roy Mackal in his 1976 book The Monsters of Loch Ness, in order to account for sightings of Nessie. It is hypothesized that Champ might also be an unknown species of gigantic, thick-bodied eel.
4. Gar (Garfish): Samuel De Champlain's record of what appears to be a Serpentine Monster is actually known to be a Garfish which can also grow to a large length and would fit some of the hump descriptions of Champ
5. Otter: According to Joe Nickell and Benjamin Radform, a group of Otters swimming in a line with their backs going up and down in the water would appear to give the impression of a many-humped monster. There have been many occasions where people have mistaken Otters for unknown aquatic monsters and on getting close to them have discovered what they really are
Cultural importance to New York and Vermont
The Champ legend has become a revenue-generating attraction. For example, the village of Port Henry, New York, has erected a giant model of Champ and holds "Champ Day" on the first Saturday of every August. As the mascot of Vermont's lone Minor League Baseball affiliate, the Vermont Lake Monsters, Champ became more prominent after the team was renamed from the Vermont Expos to the Vermont Lake Monsters. Champ has been the primary attraction of the New York–Penn League affiliate since their inception. Several nearby establishments, including a car wash, use images of Champ as a logo.
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