Monday, September 21, 2009


Many have heard of the lake monster “Nessie” lurking in the depths of Loch Ness. But have you heard about his American cousin? In Lake Champlain, lying between New York and Vermont, there may be another version of the beast nicknamed by its surrounding inhabitants as “Champ”.

To help one understand the nature of this animal, I believe it is helpful to start with these creatures’ origins. Champ and Nessie fall under a species classification titled “cryptozoological creatures”. Champ is believed to be somewhere between 15-25 feet in length and dark green in color. Both individuals are thought of as shy and timid, often being scared away by nearby boats.

Native American tribes of the Abenaki and Iroquois believed that a large, horned serpent occupied the lake. Samuel de Champlain, whom the lake is named after, is credited as being the first European to see Champ in 1609. Though by the description of the text it seems that he may have just seen a large garfish instead.

There are many theories as to what exactly Champ may be:

• A dinosaur that managed to escape extinction.

• A surviving zeuglodon, a primitive form of whale with a snake like body.

• A lake sturgeon; its single dorsal fin running along its spine is synonymous in many sightings, while its shark-like tale does not meet any descriptions.

• Skeptics have pointed out the existence of an underwater wave called a seiche, which can throw debris from the bottom causing items to protrude through the surface.

• A relative of a plesiosaur, a prehistoric water dwelling reptile with a long snake-like head and four flippers. Since fish were believed to be their primary diet, the Lake Champlain’s diversity of aquatic life could easily suite the creatures. They have been dated back to the Triassic period (200 million years ago) through the Cretaceous period (65 million years ago), where all dinosaurs were thought to have gone extinct.

I know what you’re asking yourself right now, “But even if there have been over 300 recorded sightings, wouldn’t there have to be more than one to continue the population?” Yes, in fact, scientists speculate at least 50 adult Champs would be needed to sustain a breeding population, while 500 specimens would allow the species to sustain itself for a longer period.

While these numbers seem daunting, Lake Champlain would be a suitable environment for such a creature. The lake is 120 miles long, reaches depths of 400 feet, and has been in its present condition for around 10,000 years.

The first official sighting of Champ was in 1819 in Port Henry, New York, where a railroad crew reported seeing a “head of an enormous serpent sticking out of the water and approaching them from the opposite shore”. Around this time, farmers reported missing livestock and drag marks leading towards the lake’s shore. The New York Times even published an article about an incident in 1873 where another railroad crew, this time located in Dresden, New York, spotted a head rising from the water with silvery, reflective scales.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, efforts have been made in investigation of Champ. Former social studies teacher, Joseph W Zarzynski, formed the Lake Champlain Phenomenon Investigation sixteen years ago and has published multiple books on Champ. The best evidence to this day is the below photograph taken by Sandra Mansi in 1977. Her account of that day can be found here.

Whether a floating tree branch or an oddly shaped rock, the legend of Champ will continue to live on in the small towns of Vermont and New York; even in the city of Port Henry where its citizens have made the creature their mascot.

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