Is Lake Champlain Home to a Sea Serpent?

What's 10,000 years old, is 12 to 20 meters from head to tail, swims like a sea serpent, and may or may not exist? The answer is "Champ," the legendary denizen of Lake Champlain, a narrow, 200 kilometer-long freshwater lake straddling New York State and Burlington Vermont in the northeastern U.S.

This lake has been famous for its beauty ever since 1609, when the French explorer Samuel de Champlain first discovered it, and noted in his journal that he'd seen a long, serpent-like creature surfacing near his ship. There have been over 300 reported sightings since then.

Despite all those eyewitness accounts, and the grainy photos, Dick Affolter, a local trial lawyer and avid fisherman, remained skeptical. That is, until the late afternoon of July 11, 2005, when he was out fishing on the lake with his son-in-law,  Pete Bodette.

"Now I'm a believer!" says Affolter. "When we stopped to put our fishing lines in the lake, Pete saw what we both thought was a log or a railroad tie."

"We just kept looking at it," adds Bodette, "but something just didn't look right about it - whether it was the shine on it,  or whether it was the subtle movement of it. We slowly trolled over to it." Affolter says "It turns out it was a living thing with a back that was a good three or four meters long. It had what seemed to be a serpent body. The head seemed to have the shape of a sledgehammer to me, but bigger. When I saw the head I couldn't see whether it had eyes or gills,  or anything."

The two men thought the creature might be a giant sturgeon - the delicious, prehistoric fish species that inhabits Lake Champlain. Soon, whatever-it-was dropped straight down, out of sight, like a submarine. This in itself was unique in the two men's wide experience.

They continued to fish, and speculate. When the creature reappeared, close up, about an hour later, Bodette picked up his video camera and began to film the animal from the ship's bow, briefly eclipsing Affolter's view.

"Although you must have seen it at one point because you shouted out 'It's going to ram us!' laughs Bodette. "Right!" agrees Affolter. "It was moving at a pretty low speed, but it was coming right toward us." When asked whether they were frightened, Bodette shakes his head. "Not at all. We were just intrigued." "Overall [it was] not frightening," says Affolter, "just very confusing to the perception."

The Champ legend is a big draw for tourists to Burlington, Vermont, and environs. At the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center, a large multidisciplinary facility devoted to the region, two teens work their way through "The Legend of Champ," an exhibit devoted to the Champ debate. When asked whether he believes Champ really exists, the first boy quickly responds: "Sure! Why not? As long as he's friendly!" The other boy takes a more contemplative approach: "I guess so. We haven't found out if all the dinosaurs are really extinct. So my theory is it could be that."

J. Ellen Marsden, a fisheries professor of at the Rubinstein School of the Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont, rejects the Champ-as-dinosaur theory. She says that in order for a single dinosaur like Champ to exist, there'd have to be one animal "… that came into the Champlain Sea  when it was open to the Atlantic Ocean 10,000 years ago and has been there ever since." The existence of a 10,000 year old animal boggles our scientific comprehension. It's way off the map as far as anything we know is possible so far."

Marsden also dismisses the idea that there is a breeding population of Champs. She says that in order for a species to sustain itself over 10,000 years, there would have to be at least 30 or so animals alive at the same time and actively reproducing, and that that many animals, that large, would mean many more sightings. Yet there is one theory Marsden does find scientifically plausible.

"Many of the sea serpent legends are hypothesized to be surrounding an animal that is known as an 'Oar Fish' that can readily grow to ten meters or more," she says. "It's sinuous. It has a very big head. It has a beard-like growth on its underside. It would look really, really strange even to somebody who is used to seeing fish. She adds that it is extremely unlikely, but it could have wandered into Lake Champlain's freshwater system. "It might not live long," she says "but even one sighting would create lots of legends of Champ."

Since science seems unable, for now, to explain the Champ phenomenon, famed Vermont storyteller Joe Citro says there are some compelling metaphysical theories to consider. As one example, he suggests that portions of Lake Champlain may be unstuck in time, and that Champ sightings are really glimpses through a window onto the lake's distant past. And there are other tantalizing possibilities. "Still," he says, "I think we do need mysteries. We need something to keep the child in us alive. I see the surface of the lake as a veil that shrouds a mystery. We don't know what's underwater. We don't know what's under that lake. Anything could be there. And Champ is an excellent candidate!"

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs