The jury is still out as to whether Lake Champlain’s Champ is real or not but Cryptozoology lovers will be interested in some new research that recently came to my attention. Is this monster of a tale the real deal, or a figment of our imagination?
Recently I was approached by one of the team members of Champ Search with exciting news about their ongoing research into the mystery of Champ, the Lake Champlain lake monster. Katy Elizabeth and her partner Dennis Jay Hall have been continuing the search for this creature on their own and have discovered some tantalizing evidence! (Legendary photo above right by Sandra Mansi.)
About ten or 15 years ago, a scientific team working on the lake discovered a unique echolocation signature that was new to science. (See links to my previous articles in the References section below.) There was some excitement that this data could help identify a new species of animal living in the lake. Over the years, that research was set aside so we heard no more about it.
In an interview last week, Katy told me that her partner Dennis has been looking into the mystery of Champ since at least 1985 when he caught some footage of the beast. In more recent times, Katy had her own sighting which ignited her passion to search for Champ.
She said one day the pair went to the area where Dennis had his sighting in 1985 and dropped their equipment into the water, listening for any unique sounds. Sometime later they “heard” an echolocation on their equipment and recorded it.
Because Katy and Dennis aren’t scientists themselves, they have sent some of their data to reputable sources to have it analyzed by experts in the field of echolocation and biosonar. They were told their recordings were “interesting” and are waiting for the results of further analysis.
What I find exciting is that these echolocations are still occurring on the lake and the team at Champ Search is finding them! It gives me hope that we may yet find this creature – at least officially — and that we may finally get the thumbs-up from the scientific community! Funnily enough, both New York State and Vermont have already passed legislation protecting Champ from harm and harassment.
What Is Champ?
In the course of our conversation, Katy and I speculated about Champ’s appearance. I was under the assumption that Champ would turn out to be a mammal of some sort, perhaps one that left the lake during the cold winter months via the extensive cave system below and around the lake. I was under the impression that mammals were the only animals to use echolocation. I was wrong.
According to the an article on echolocation by Princeton.edu, there are some cave dwelling birds that use echolocation to survive, namely, Cave Swiftlets (below left) and Oilbirds (below right).
So that opens the possibility that some other type of vertebrate, such as a reptile, could develop echolocation as well. At least it does to me. And if we see nothing else in Mother Nature, it is her ability to surprise and astound us.
Back to Champ.
Katy’s theory is that Champ is actually a type of reptile perhaps with some amphibian traits. I asked her why the amphibian traits? She reminded me of a report that I’d heard over the years of a land sighting of Champ. (Photo below left of Katy Elizabeth on Lake Champlain searching for Champ, courtesy of the Champ Search Facebook page.)
About 25 years ago, in early spring when the water was high, Christine Hebert heard her dogs barking in the wee hours of the morning. She lived near the Auer Family Boathouse, a treasured local landmark at the far northern end of North Avenue, a narrow spit of land wedged between the Lake, the Burlington Bike Path, and the Winooski River.
Thinking she had forgotten to tie one of the boats up—it might be banging around. disturbing the dogs—she looked out the window. The night was foggy, but a bright streetlamp illuminated the boat launch ramp, providing a welcome beacon to late-night boaters.
“It came out through the mist,” she recalls. “Like a dinosaur, as big as me, with its head and neck out of the water.” She gestures with her hand bunched up at a 90-degree angle from her forearm, her elbow steeply bent. “And a hump. I couldn’t tell how much of it was still in the water.”
This was before the city had brought in truckloads of fill and broken-up sidewalk concrete to form a bulwark along this stretch of shore. The drop-off into the boat ramp was steep then. “The water would be over your head there,” she says now.
The creature, a pea-green color, sat under the bright light staring out at the Lake for several minutes, apparently unperturbed by the dogs. Christine looked out from her window about thirty feet away, entranced. It moved its head around, then glided off into the water. Christine had the sense it was headed towards the Winooski River.
A few nights later, the dogs barked again, and this time Christine was certain that everything in the yard was tied up tight. On this night, however, she was not alone. She woke her mother from her bed and dragged her to the window. The creature under the light this time was a bit smaller, and more brown than green.
Her mother “refused to commit” to what she’d seen, Christine says, and would never speak of it. Christine related her experience to a colleague just after it happened, and wound up facing a formal, intimidating inquiry about the soundness of her mind at work, followed by a wave of curiosity-seekers in tents and vans on her front lawn.
She was scoffed at and asked if she’d been drinking at the time. She and her brother started locking the gate across the boathouse driveway. And she stopped talking about it, except in response to serious, respectful inquiries.
“I don’t care if you laugh at me,” she says firmly. “I don’t care if you don’t believe me. I know what I saw.”
Katy thought if they were amphibian they may be able to breathe through their skin a while when they are on land. But the question remains, if this is true, why do they come up onto land? (Artwork left by unknown artist.)
I asked Katy what she thinks it looks like. For starters, she said it’s usually 15-18 feet long but some reports say they can be up to 30 feet long. They’re pure muscle and Katy, who works extensively with horses, estimates their weight anywhere between 1500-2000 pounds.
The really strange aspect to the creature is that it doesn’t swim side to side like most fish and things like eels do. Katy describes Champ’s motion as a “caterpillar crawl.” That surprised me.
So if Champ is actually some kind of reptile, where does it go in the winter? Katy suggested it may hibernate like many aquatic animals do. I know there are frogs who dig down into the silt/dirt at the bottom of ponds and hibernate through the winter. Perhaps this is what Champ does?
That makes more sense than the Champ-as-mammal theory because the creature isn’t seen during the winter months. Most winters Lake Champlain is frozen solid so if the creature needed to breathe air, it would be out of luck.
I asked Katy about the caves that supposedly exist near the bottom of the lake and if she’d heard anything about the possibility they connect to the Saint Lawrence Seaway. She said that Dennis dove into the lake on several occasions and saw the caves. He said the lake is a lot deeper than people think. They believe the problem has something to do with the density of rock in the area – it makes it hard to get accurate depth readings.
Anyway, Dennis feels the caves are too dangerous to explore, especially by one diver. So to date, I don’t think anyone knows if these caves connect to anything or nothing.
Katy speculates that Champ could be a type of Tanystropheus, which I subsequently discovered is a fascinating animal. Though now believed to be extinct, I have to wonder if it’s a descendant or a new species that re-emerged after the mass extinction.
Here are some facts about Tanystropheus:
- Believed to be a marine animal based on fossil findings
- Fish bones were found in their fossils in the area where the gut would be
- Scientists speculate the long neck could have been used to snatch tree-living reptiles from the boughs as part of their diet
- Scientists think this creature retained the egg and embryo of its young in its body until shortly before the hatch-date.
Couple thoughts. Remember I was wondering why the animal would go on land at all? Maybe it does feed along the shoreline snatching various prey from the tree branches. Or maybe it laid its egg one night just before it was due to hatch, and the next night it made its way to the water, like baby turtles do. I’m wondering here, no proof of any of this, but I still find it fascinating to contemplate.
I asked Katy what kind of fish are available for a creature like Champ to eat. She said they check every time they go on the lake and they see a lot of perch, smelts, largemouth bass and smallmouth bass. She also pointed out the critics’ argument that such a large creature would quickly deplete the lake of all fish if it existed. However, she thinks that Champ creatures don’t eat like mammals, i.e., daily. You know how snakes and alligators get a meal and then sit for a long period of time before they need to eat again? That’s what Katy thinks happens to Champ.
It’s all fascinating to think about, isn’t it? But as per usual, it’s going to take a lot more research to get to the truth.
Both Katy and Dennis have full time jobs and lives, so the time they have to actually investigate Champ is precious.
The cost of the equipment they use is quite expensive and they’re paying for it by themselves. The good thing is this is just the equipment they need to get good scientific evidence.
Besides the echolocation/bioacoustics equipment, Katy said they also used trail cams (for any potential land sightings), as well as several cameras and video equipment.
I think this intrepid pair has a very good chance of getting to the bottom of the Lake Champlain mystery. They’re both dedicated, they’ve got good equipment, and they’re sharing their findings with the experts. That’s the ONLY way this mystery is going to be solved.
I wish them the best of luck!!Here is their 7.5 minute video:
Katy and Dennis have books available if you’d like to read more about their search for Champ.
Water Horse of Lake Champlain II by Katy Elizabeth
Champ Quest, the Ultimate Search: 1999 Field Guide and Almanac for Lake Champlain by Dennis Jay Hall
So what do you think? Have you ever seen Champ?