Champ is the name given to a reputed lake monster living in Lake Champlain, a natural freshwater lake in North America, partially situated across the U.S.-Canada border in the Canadian province of Quebec and partially situated across the Vermont-New York border. 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.
Like the Loch Ness Monster, while most regard Champ as legend, others have speculated it is possible such a creature does live deep in the lake, possibly a relative of theplesiosaur, an extinct group of aquatic reptiles.
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.
An account of a creature in Lake Champlain was ostensibly given in 1609 by French explorerSamuel de Champlain, the founder of Québec and the lake's namesake, who is supposed to have spotted the creature as he was fighting the Iroquois on the bank of the lake. However, in actuality no such sighting was recorded, and it has since been traced back to a 1970 article.
The first reported sighting actually 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 (Krystek 3).
Some believe that Champ may be a plesiosaur similar to “Nessie”, claiming the two lakes have much in common. Like Loch Ness, Lake Champlain is over 400 feet (120 m) deep, and both lakes were formed from retreating glaciers. Believers also claim both lakes support fish populations large enough to feed a supposed sea or lake monster (Krystek 1). This legend would require either a single animal, or a sizable breeding population.
In 1977, Sandra Mansi took a photograph while on vacation with her family that appears to show a plesiosaur-like body and neck sticking out of the lake. Mansi later showed the photo, which differs from the famous "Surgeon's photo" of the Loch Ness Monster significantly in that experts who have studied it could not find any evidence to suggest that it is not legitimate.
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. However, this is contradicted by the testimony of Ms. Mansi and her family, who all reported that what they saw turned its head and moved in such a way that would be impossible for an inanimate object to move.
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 advanced brain (unlike those which plesiosaurs are thought to have 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.
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 extinct Sauropterygian reptiles that lived during the Mesozoic Era and died out around 65.5 million years ago, along with Pterosaurs and non-avian dinosaurs. There are, however, a few problems with this hypothesis. One of them is that plesiosaurs might have been cold-blooded, so it would be extremely difficult for them to survive in the waters of Lake Champlain, which can get very cold during the Winter. Another 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 hypothesizing 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, serpentine ancient 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 actual, 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, therefore, makes it very unlikely, that it could have survived all the way to the present-day, and still inhabits Lake Champlain.
July, 1870. Passengers on a small steamship excursion on Lake Champlain see a mysterious looking monster near Charlotte, Vermont. All on board give similar, sobering claims. July, 1873. Crew and passengers of the steamer W.B. Eddy watch a large creature near Dresden, New York, as it swims and vanishes out of sight. 1945. People aboard the S.S. Ticonderoga observe an unusual creature cavorting somewhere near the middle of the lake. July 30, 1984. The largest mass Champ sighting in history occurs aboard a sightseeing boat called The Spirit of Ethan Allen. Near Appletree Point, the approximate time was around six o'clock in the evening. Between seventy and eighty-six passengers were aboard. The creature remained for about three minutes. Three to five humps surfaced, each about 12 inches out of the water. They estimated the creature to be about 30 feet long. It was described as green-brown and slimy-looking like a frog. It swam parallel with the boat for 1,000 yards until a speedboat approached. The creature then turned 90 degrees and submerged. Early Discovery Champ, the famed sea monster of Lake Champlain. The stories surrounding this beloved animal of lore add yet another exciting chapter to cryptozoology's continuing mysteries. As with all reported unidentified lake creatures, the sightings of Champ take us far back in history, specifically to the year 1609. Yet earlier accounts exist, those given by the Indians that inhabited the land before the white man came. The tribes that lived near what is now called Lake Champlain were the Abenaki and the Iroquois. Each had their own legends concerning a creature in the lake. The Abanaki called the creature Tatoskok. Samuel de Champlain, world famous French explorer and founder of Quebec, "discovered" the lake in the 1609, when he was fighting the Iroquois in New York with his new allies, the Huron. With regards to Champ, however, he was not the first European to sight the creature as has been widely reported. Sometime during that same period, he reported seeing a monstrous creature along the coast of the St. Lawrence estuary. A journalist in 1960 inaccurately reported the location as Lake Champlain and yet another "legend" was born. However, it was in the year 1609 that he did see the creature in Lake Champlain, and since then hundreds have been added to his number. Samuel de Champlain claimed to see an unknown animal, 11-12 meters long and about 30 cm in diameter; dark to mahogany in color, almost black and looking like a giant snake. Of course, this report fits along nicely with the hundreds of others, though many other reports don't describe the creature being "snake-like." There may be a significant explanation for this, which will be touched upon later. Lake Champlain Lake Champlain, on the border between New York, Vermont and extending a little north into Quebec, is almost identical in structure to the many other lakes that are said to be inhabited by mysterious, large creatures. For one, it is extremely wide and extremely deep, with an area of over 490 square miles (it is the fourth largest lake in the U.S.). It reaches 13 miles in width maximum, and is up to 400 feet deep in some places. While Loch Ness reaches an approximate 754 (230m) feet deep maximum, Champlain covers much more area (Ness only has an area of about 21.8 square miles). To put it simply, it is quite possible, scientifically and logically, that unknown animals exist within the depths of the lake. Not only that, animals that most scientists would falsely dub "prehistoric." The Species If it were not for the Mansi photograph, True Authority would not take such a dogmatic stance that the creature of Lake Champlain is a species of Plesiosaur. Plesiosaurs were a group of marine-dwelling reptiles (they were not true dinosaurs), that ranged in size from the 7-foot long Plesiosaurus to the 46-foot long Elasmosaurus. They possessed deep bodies, short tails, and more than the normal five bones in each finger or flipper (they often had as many as ten bones in each finger). Plesiosaurs are divided into two groups or Superfamilies: those with short necks and large heads, such as Kronosaurus, which are in the Superfamily Pliosauroidea; and those with long necks and small heads, such as the Elasmosaurus or Cryptoclidus, which are in the Superfamily Plesiosauroidea. Nessie seems to be that of the latter. Though many scientists enjoy to make claims that they know a great deal about Plesiosaurs, in truth we know very little about them, as with every dinosaur ever discovered. Fossils and bones can only reveal to us so much; the rest is simply guess-work. The claim that "Champ would need to come for air every so often" is, to simply put it, just a claim. We know little of Plesiosaur air capacity. Sightings Up to 1992 there have been a total of 180 witness accounts of Champ, and of these, 83 of them mention a long neck with a small head, which is the common description for lake monsters throughout the entire world. Up to a few years ago, the total individual people that claim to have seen Champ number around 600. Dennis Hall, a carpenter, says he has looked for the famed creature ever since he was 10. He said he was getting into a boat with his daughter, son and father-in-law, when his daughter spotted a creature on June 30, 1985. The creature was about a mile away when it was first seen. Hall was about a mile from the Basin Harbor Club in Vergennes when the creature surfaced, he said. As he puts it, he didn't even know he was filming the animal until the reality of it set in. "My daughter yelled, 'Dad, there's something out there,"' Hall said. "I have film of it for maybe 20 seconds. I can't prove it's Champ ... but you can see it raise its neck and then lower it back into the water." Hall said the creature was about 30 feet long, "but the neck was really thick. I've spent my whole life on or about the lake, and this is the third time I have seen it." Hall was sitting in a canoe when he filmed the creature, so parts of the videotape are jumbled. Though not strikingly clear, the tape does show an object protruding from the lake and moving across the surface. Hall is so convinced he has captured Champ on film that he has had the film copyrighted. On videotape, the object appears to have two sections, and at the end of the tape, it appears to dive into the water with a large splash. The object appears to be alive, but because of distance, the videotape is difficult to make out. According to Hall, after the animal disappeared from view, he chased after it in a motorboat. When he arrived around the bend where he saw the creature disappear, there was nothing there. "There were no boats, the water was calm, there was nothing out there," Hall said. Still photographs of the videotape, shot in sequence, confirm that an object is moving and its shape is changing in a snake-like motion as it goes. Hall said he videotaped the creature from about one mile, but the photographs do provide great detail. It was the third time Hall had seen the creature. He had also seen Champ swimming near the breakwater in Burlington on June 25, from a distance of about 50 feet, in a marsh connected to Otter Creek, during the Spring of 1977. Joseph W. Zarzynski, director of the Lake Champlain Phenomena Investigation, has been studying Champ for 11 years. He says he has yet to see the creature himself, though he did see the Loch Ness monster in Scotland in the late '70s. He is convinced that there is some kind of large creature living in Lake Champlain. But, as should be the knowledge of anyone who believes in Champ, there is more than one creature in the lake. As Zarzynski put it himself, "We are talking about animals in the plural. I think we're dealing with 10 or 15 of them, a breeding colony." Years ago, on June 29, two women called Zarzynski and claimed they saw the creature in the same spot Hall had seen it. Earlier that same day, Zarzynski, Richard Smith and Dennis Hall had been at the spot testing equipment to detect Champ. Hall had suggested to Zarzynski the location, based on theories that Hall had developed. The women described the creature much as Hall did. Jane Temple and Peggy McGeoch, two workers at the Basin Harbor Club in Vergennes, said they saw Champ while they were at work. McGeoch said the animal raised its head and neck about five feet out of the water. She claimed the creature "was huge, about 36 inches in diameter. I thought at first I was seeing a very large fish jump, but then I saw(what I thought were) two other fish jump behind it. That's when I realized it was not a fish. There were humps ... Fish do not do a ballet in the water." McGeoch also said the animal "moved like a caterpillar going across your driveway, only it was in the water. I couldn't believe what I was looking at." According to Zarzynski, Champ, from the descriptions, must be a species of plesiosaur. The Loch Ness monster is also most often explained as a plesiosaur, Zarzynski said. Zarzynski admits there are probably many sightings that are logs or scuba divers, but some people are definitely seeing something out of the ordinary. "We do have America's Loch Ness in our backyard." Pete Horton of Bridport reported that he spotted a creature in Potash Bay in Addison on July 1. The very next day a similar animal was spotted by two Delaware women near Elm Point in Addison. “It was definitely not a fish, not an eel and not a snake," Rita Schaffer said. Lillian Cayo of St. Albans said she, her husband, her son, and a friend all saw the creature four times near their house. All the sightings, she said, occurred when the water was calm and there were no boats on the lake. It's quite interesting, because after a while, you notice the same things each time. "There isn't any noise," Cayo said. "I think the creature must know it's a good time to move about or whatever." She said she looks for the creature whenever possible, but people still question her about the sightings. People ask "What was it you were drinking?" Conclusion The physical, actual reality of Champ of Lake Champlain is far greater than what the populace realizes. The state of Vermont passed a bill into law in 1983 which protected the creature from human harm. How much more a reality can you make of an imaginative, mythical animal? Indeed, very little, and as more tests and more expeditions are made to the famed home of Champ, the beloved monster of Vermont, the evidence will only continue to grow until, to the dismay and shock of many, Champ will be added to the growing list of our current animal kingdom.