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The Lake Champlain Monster

January 21, 2010 , Posted by byu at 1:59 AM

The notorious sea beast of Lake Champlain, a 109-mile-long lake on the border of New York and Vermont, is considered America's Loch Ness monster. Popular legend has it that the French explorer Samuel de Champlain saw the creature in 1609, in the first ever sighting of a North American lake monster. But this apocryphal tale has been traced back to a mistaken account made by a reporter in 1960. It seems that Champlain did, in fact, spot a strange aquatic monster, but the location was off the coast of the St. Lawrence estuary, and not the lake that bears the explorer's name.

Lake Champlain monster Probably the earliest known report of a monster in Lake Champlain came from pioneer settlers near Port Henry, NY, in 1819. A railroad crew near Dresden, New York, in 1873 claimed to see "a head of an enormous serpent sticking out of the water and approaching them from the opposite shore." Following that sighting, area farmers reported missing livestock along with supposed drag marks stretching across the ground to the shore of the lake. That same year, P. T. Barnum offered a $50,000 reward for any monster hunter who could bring him the "hide of the great Champlain serpent to add to my mammoth World's Fair Show."

Barnum had no takers, but the sightings continued. In 1883, Clinton County Sheriff Nathan Mooney said he saw "an enormous snake or water serpent... 25 to 30 feet in length," which raised its long, curved neck about five feet out of the water. A group of fishermen in 1899 claimed to witness the creature partially climbing onto the shore, exposing about six feet of its finned body. In 1945 a man claimed to have caught a 14-inch 'baby sea serpent' at the lake, but it is thought to have been a salamander.

The most famous sighting of Champ in recent times was made in July 1977 by Sandra Mansi, who was vacationing in Vermont near the Canadian border. When she and her husband saw what appeared to be the head and long neck of a huge creature, she managed to grab a camera and take one picture before it vanished. Expert analysis of the Mansi photograph (shown on this page) has concluded that the image was not faked or retouched, and it has been widely speculated that the animal shown is a plesiosaur, the same prehistoric species often proposed as Nessie's true identity. Along more realistic lines, some suggest that the apparent head and neck might actually be the fin of a small whale rolling on its side. The credibility of the photo has also been hindered by Mansi's inability to indicate the area from which she took the picture.

Former teacher Joseph W. Zarzynski is the founder of the Lake Champlain Phenomenon Investigation, and the leading authority on Champ for the past twenty years. Zarzynski, who says there has been a total of over 300 Champ sightings, has reported promising results from sonar and electronic surveillance of the lake, but nothing conclusive yet. He is so certain of the creature's reality that he has convinced local and state governments to grant Champ some select measures as a legally protected species.

If there really are sea monsters living anywhere in the United States, Lake Champlain is about as ideal a habitat as anyone could ask for. It is vast in size, surpassed only by the Great Lakes, with depths of up to 400 feet. Champlain contains the populations of fish and aquatic life that would be necessary to sustain a colony of giant beasts, and with its outlet to the Atlantic, it could be home to a much wider diversity of unknown life than a small, isolated lake... such as Loch Ness.

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