What is Champ Supposed to Look Like?
Well, like many lake monsters, Champ is supposedly somewhat serpentine, with repeated humps along the back, and in other accounts, more like the good old plesiosaurs that so many of us wish still existed. Then there are reports from the 19th and 20th centuries stating the creature they saw had “antlers”, “elephant ears”, glowing eyes, a horse’s mane in various colors. Some say it looked slimey, others say it had scales, the body colors ranged from gray to black, to brown to green, even to a red-bronze type color. So it seems to me people must be seeing a bunch of things, not just one “creature,” and probably misinterpreting what they see in every case.
Lake Champlain is another one of those places, like Loch Ness, that makes sightings difficult to decipher. Wind and wave action, boat wakes, submerged sand bars, rocks poking out of the water, odd behaviors by existing fish, and then the possibility of hoaxers – all make it very hard to discern what is really going on.
I recently learned of a lake phenomena called a seiche. Apparently there are large underwater waves called seiche that form without ever disturbing the lake’s calm surface. These waves are believed to stir up debris on the lake floor like tree trunks or great clumps of vegetation that, when they surface, can be mistaken for a Champ sighting.
It just keeps getting more and more complicated. How does one make sense of any of it?
Samuel de Champlain Misquoted?
Champ believers love to point to a quote by explorer Samuel de Champlain who in his journal, they claim, described the first known sighting of Champ by a Westerner in July 1609.
In a very interesting article by Joe Nickell, Legend of the Lake Champlain Monster from July/August 2003 for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), he makes the case that de Champlain is being embellished, misquoted, and taken out of context. He includes the passage of text from de Champlain’s diary, and sure enough, it sounds like he is just talking about a big fish:
“[T]here is also a great abundance of many species of fish. Amongst others there is one called by the natives Chaousarou, which is of various lengths; but the largest of them, as these tribes have told me, are from eight to ten feet long. I have seen some five feet long, which were as big as my thigh, and had a head as large as my two fists, with a snout two feet and a half long, and a double row of very sharp, dangerous teeth. Its body has a good deal the shape of the pike; but it is protected by scales of a silvery gray colour and so strong that a dagger could not pierce them.”
Jeremy Wade also quoted de Champlain correctly (somewhere in his book; I couldn’t find it again to give you the page) and he identified this fish as the alligator gar. Granted, de Champlain didn’t mention this fish as some kind of colossal lake monster, but his description is a little scary and I can see how this “mysterious” animal might have evoked thoughts of large-scale monsters, at least back in that day. (Photo showing Jeremy Wade and an alligator gar he caught.)
But for me, this isn’t enough. People may be seeing and mis-identifying known creatures, or peculiarities about or on the lake itself, but these possibilities don’t account for everything or every sighting.
Let’s look at the most famous photo of all.
Sandra Mansi’s Photo
Once upon a time it seemed like a miraculous photo caught by a woman named Sandra Mansi held the answer to all our hopes (and fears) about what lay below the surface of Lake Champlain.
Here’s that photo:
Very impressive, don’t you think? And yet today, there is still much hemming and hawing and posturing and poo-pooing, all to say they don’t think that’s really anything but a sandbar.
In an article for the CSI, The Measure of a Monster: Investigating the Champ Photo from July/August 2003, Ben Radford has a lot to say about the photograph:
“Despite the substantial weight and credibility given to it by Champ researchers, the Mansi photograph by itself is intriguing but holds almost no value as evidence. There is little usable information revealed in the photograph; whether by accident or design, virtually all of the information needed to determine the photograph’s authenticity (and subject matter) is missing, lost, or unavailable.
For example, Mansi cannot provide the negative, which might show evidence of tampering (she said she habitually threw away her negatives). She also can’t provide other photographs taken on the roll (which might show other angles of the same object, or perhaps “test” photos of a known object from an odd position). Mansi claims to be unable to locate the site of the photo, which would help to determine a number of things, including the size of the object.
Furthermore, the photo has virtually no objects of known scale (boat, human, etc.) by which to judge the creature’s size or the distance. The fact that the Mansis, allegedly afraid of ridicule, waited four years to release the photo was also seen as suspicious. All we are left with is a fantastic story whose only supporting proof is a compelling but ambiguous photograph of something in the water.”
Where I Disagree
Couple things here: I’m not above throwing out negatives, they dry out anyway! And I don’t think it’s odd for the family to be afraid of ridicule, and so they hid the photo until Sandra shared it with a co-worker who then began spreading the word of its existence.
As to finding the exact location: do you remember when the BFRO went back to the canyon where Patterson and Gimlin got the famous video of a female Bigfoot on one of their Finding Bigfoot shows? There was much commentary on how they could barely recognize the place from Patterson’s original video. That’s because nature moves on, changes landscapes and things. So I don’t feel that’s such a big deal. Besides which, there are 587 miles of shoreline – let’s give her a break on that point.
This article did say that Sandra immediately went to Washington DC to have the photo copyrighted, which I do find a little odd. I would never have thought of that. However, she has never once benefitted financially from the photo, which I do think lends her credibility.
Then again, Ben Radford makes a good argument for his case, that the photo is simply a misidentification of something else that either lives in the lake or on it, or that may have surfaced. He consulted with video/photographic researchers and quotes previous analyses done by these professionals on the photograph in his article. He finally tried to re-create the photograph himself and learned a couple of things.
First, the Mansis’ estimate as to the distance of the creature was probably correct (150 feet away from them). But somehow because of that, the size of the “creature” in the photo was probably much smaller than they originally reported. That fact alone brings the “monster” well back into the realm of known creatures, from fish, to otters, to marine birds.
I don’t think any of us can say for sure what the Mansi family saw that day, but it does seem like it wasn’t a plesiosaur or any other type of traditional “Lake Monster”. I also don’t think the family was perpetrating a hoax. They certainly seem sincere and I believe they saw what they said they saw.
For me, that neck is the sticking point because if it was a marine bird of some sort, it’s close enough that we could see the beak and wings. Could it be an otter on a sand bar? I guess for now, we’ll have to put it aside and look for more definite proof. (Photo of Sandra Mansi holding her famous photo.)
Not Giving Up
I haven’t given up yet! In part 3 we’ll talk about what could possibly be an echo-locating animal within the lake that scientists still can’t identify.