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 that is shared by New York and Vermont and just a few miles into Quebec, Canada. While there is no scientific evidence for the cryptid's existence, there have been over 300 reported sightings. The legend of the monster is considered a draw for tourism in the Burlington, Vermont and Plattsburgh, New York areas.
History of the legend
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. 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 bogus. Champlain did in fact document monstrous, "five feet long" fish in his journal. He described the fish as have 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).
The first media-reported sighting came in 1883 when Sheriff Nathan H. Mooney claimed that he had seen a “…gigantic water serpent about 50 yards away” 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 eyewitnesses coming forward with their own accounts of Champ sightings. Mooney’s story predated the public Loch Ness controversy by 50 years.
Champ became so popular that P. T. Barnum, in the late 19th century, put a reward of $50,000 up for a carcass of Champ. Barnum wanted the carcass of Champ so that he could include it in his epic World’s Fair Show.
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, there are few explanations for how a giant creature could swim, let alone hide, in such shallow water. Furthermore, it has been suggested that the object in the photograph could possibly be a rising tree trunk or log. Rotting trees often gather gas in the process of decay, and sometimes rise to the water's surface at considerable speed.
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 echolocation from within the lake by the Fauna Communications Research Institute in 2003, working as part of a Discovery Channel program. The group has concluded that the sounds they have recorded are similar to that of a Beluga Whale or perhaps an Orca, but not of a known animal, and no dolphin or whale species have been previously known to live in the lake. Mammals are the only animals capable of echolocation and nothing in freshwater is known to echolocate except for freshwater dolphins, porpoises and beluga whales (which occasionally swim up rivers temporarily in Alaska to feed and once inhabited the Champlain Sea). The echolocation itself was recorded in three different areas of Lake Champlain including a man-made navigation channel in the deepest part of the lake. Analysis conducted by the scientists who recorded the sound suggests the creature has an extremely mammalian brain (unlike those which plesiosaurs likely possessed).
There are several hypotheses about Champ's possible identity. Several popular hypotheses among skeptics are these:
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 are possible candidates for Champ. 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 Zeuglodons. 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.
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, and it is possible that Champ might also be an unknown species of gigantic, thick-bodied eel.
4. Pinniped: Several researchers, including Bernard Heuvelmans and Darren Naish, have theorized that an unknown species of giant pelagic, long-necked pinniped might be responsible for sightings of sea monsters in the world's oceans. Some researchers have also extended this hypothesis to include reports of lake monster sightings as well, including Champ. A potential problem for this hypothesis is that pinnipeds tend to be very noisy and social animals, therefore making it hard to believe that they could remain hidden in the lake for so long without anybody having ever noticed them. However, this problem could potentially be solved via evolution, since this hypothetical pinniped could behave very differently from known species of pinnipeds.
5. Tanystropheus: This hypothesis was proposed by Champ researcher Dennis Hall, who claims to have seen Champ 20 times. According to Hall, in 1976, his father caught a strange-looking reptile on the shore of Lake Champlain. He then took it to scientists who concluded that it was unlike any known species of living reptile. Unfortunately, however, this specimen was later lost. Hall then saw a picture of a Tanystropheus, and concluded that it was the most likely candidate for Champ. However, there are numerous problems with this hypothesis as well. This is because Tanystropheus was a very specialized species of aquatic reptile from the Triassic Period. This makes it very unlikely that it could have survived all the way to the present-day and still inhabit Lake Champlain.
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 "Champ" as a logo.
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