“Champ” Sighting Solved?

June 9, 2009

A video of a creature swimming in Lake Champlain has prompted many to believe it depicts the legendary lake monster Champ. Asked by an Associated Press reporter to assess the blurry, two-minute clip posted on YouTube, I did so with CFI colleagues Henry Huber and Tom Flynn (whose input was invaluable) and made a tentative identification. A biology professor reached the same conclusion.

The blurry, two-minute clip was shot by a 37-year-old Web site developer, Eric Olsen, who dubbed it “Strange Sighting on Lake Champlain.” He supposedly took it on Sunday, May 31, 2009, at about 5:30 a.m., from Oakledge Park near the Burlington, Vermont, waterfront.

“Looks Champ-like to me!” gushed one viewer. Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman proclaimed the video superior to all other photographic evidence of the alleged Champ. However, he insisted: “There’s lots of things that it could be. It’s just as interesting to me if all it is is an out-of-place harbor seal” (Burlington   Free Press , June 3, 2009). Coleman told the Plattsburg, New York,   Press Republican (June 4, 2009): “The film [sic] needs to have a formal forensic analysis performed, to break it down frame by frame. It needs to be looked at very seriously.”

Indeed, a serious look shows what appears to be a real swimming creature, leaving a wake as it struggles toward shore. Olsen suddenly stopped videotaping, saying that his cell phone was nearing the end of its memory capabilities. But why stop prematurely? And what happened next? He maintains the creature did not emerge from the water during the half hour that he remained there.

I told the Associated Press my best guess was that the animal was a moose calf. That would not only explain the lack of antlers (so would its being a female) but also the relatively short face. (See the   National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals , 1996, p. 839.) Ellen Marsden, a biology professor at the University of Vermont, concluded likewise. She discounted the seal hypothesis, observing that a seal does not swim with its back out of the water. She thought the video probably did depict a young moose, “swimming as if something was seriously wrong” (   Free Press , June 3, 2009)