An exploration of our Earth's ever-captivating fauna through musings on the bizarre side of Zoology, Cryptozoology, Paleontology, and Paleoanthropology

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

1994 Observation of An Unknown, Leatherback Turtle-Like Animal At Lake Champlain

Painting of a fast-swimming unknown aquatic animal in Lake Champlain, by Thomas Finley
I have been in correspondence with fellow cryptozoological researcher Scott Mardis for a long time now, and I consider him a sort of mentor in the field of study regarding unknown aquatic animal reports. In past conversation which I have had with him, Scott has made mention of his own encounter with a possible unknown aquatic animal in Lake Champlain. Intrigued that the great longneck-sleuth himself had possibly observed an individual of the species behind sightings of Lake Champlain "monsters" and other unknown aquatic animals around the world, I had hoped to gain further details on the sighting someday. Finally, Scott has created a report form in which he has shared the details of his sighting. This has been reproduced here, with the appertaining text in bold.

Lake Champlain "Monster" Sighting Report by Scott Mardis
The date I believe was July 9, 1994 and I was at the waterfront park called Battery Park in Burlington, Vermont on Lake Champlain, purposely watching the water for something with my binoculars (I did not own a camera at the time and could not afford one, as I had recently spent most of my money relocating to Burlington to investigate the "monster"). I had been watching the lake for weeks on a regular basis from this park as it was easy to access and had a wide view of one of the deepest parts of the lake. The park was sparsely occupied at the time and I was sitting on one of the benches facing the water. Around 11 a.m., a large object bobbed to the surface and remained stationary for a few seconds. It was very far out into the water but I had a good view of it with my binoculars. I later estimated it’s size by comparing it with a boat I saw afterward. I believe it was about 15 feet long and about 4 feet high.

It was a large mound-like object with a smaller mound-like object rising up out of the middle of it. It kept this configuration for a few seconds, then turned to the right, with the smaller mound-like object taking on a different profile and then oriented on the right side of the larger mound (as pictured below). 

The full object began to swim or move to the right, with the smaller object making a rocking motion as this was happening. The smaller object could be interpreted as an appendage of some sort, possibly a head on a short neck or a flipper. The whole thing briefly swam a few yards to the right, then promptly sank vertically and I did not see it again. The entire incident may have lasted something like 30 seconds, if that. I did have a very good view of it through the binoculars.
The object was a greenish-black, "garbage bag" color, reminiscent of a leatherback turtle.
[JC: Scott desired that I note that the color of his illustrations is not as dark as the color of the object was, due to lack of ink.]

The final configuration taken by the object that I saw was reminiscent of the shapes seen of the object in the Eric Olsen Lake Champlain video from May 2009. 

As far as the incident I witnessed, I am not aware of anyone else noticing it at the time and I did not immediately discuss it with anyone at the scene, as I did not know anyone there. I did shortly thereafter walk to a payphone and inform the local Channel 3 T.V. newsroom what had happened. They interviewed me the following day at the park for a news feature on "Champ", in which they interviewed several other recent eyewitnesses including Dennis Hall. After calling the newsroom, I immediately went home and made drawings of what I had seen while it was still fresh in my mind. The original drawings are in my archives in Vermont. The sighting is listed in Gary Mangiacopra’s book, "Does Champ Exist?"

This report form was also forwarded to cryptozoological researcher Dale Drinnon, who made some interesting comments on it (see his article here). He felt that this was an important sighting and that the smaller object sticking off of the larger object was likely an elevated foreflipper on the animal's side. Dale feels that the similarity of what Scott witnessed to the alleged creature of the Olsen video is spurious due to their different anatomical positions; a contention which I agree with. Interestingly, Scott's illustrations reminded Dale of a photograph allegedly showing an unknown animal in Loch Ness taken by F.C. Adams. Recently deceased biologist Dr. Roy P. Mackal felt that the photograph, which was taken in 1934, showed an unknown animal raising its rear flipper. In my opinion, the photograph is rather intriguing and does look like it could show a large animal raising a rounded
flipper with a blunt terminal end.
The F.C. Adams photograph. (Image Source is here)
However, the possible flipper on the subject of the photograph is also very similar to the dorsal fins of some delphinids (dolphins and their relatives), as seen in the comparative image below. Bottlenose dolphins and Harbor porpoises are a common tourist attraction at the mouth of the River Ness1 and schools of porpoises have been reported at Loch Ness, supporting the possibility that the photograph shows a dolphin. Whatever the subject of the image is, it is unfortunately too ambiguous for a proper conclusion to be made. The photographed object has been compared to dolphins, floating chunks of wood, and even the famed Rines "flipper photographs", but each comparison lends to its inconclusiveness. Thus, the photograph may or may not have any relevance to the object which Scott witnessed. (Update: Investigator Dick Raynor has let me know that he has showed the photograph to marine biologists at the Lighthouse Field Station in Scotland who were of the opinion that it showed a dolphin. These scientists were working on a dolphin photograph-ID project which continues today.)
Comparison between the F.C. Adams photograph and a bottlenose dolphin. (Image Source is here)
In my opinion, the object witnessed by Scott at Lake Champlain was quite possibly a longneck (a term used by cryptozoological researchers to refer to long-necked unknown aquatic animals) which was rotated onto its side and holding a flipper in the air. The appendage which later oriented on the right side of the object appears to be the foreflipper stretching forward as the animal swam away through a paddling locomotion (thus the rocking motion of the appendage). The vertical sinking of the object is a very interesting detail to me, as longnecks have often been reported to suddenly submerge in a vertical manner.2 Another detail which strikes me as intriguing is the manner in which the possible foreflipper was being held in the air. This was quite possibly an act of thermoregulation, similar to the "sailing" behavior of sea lions. These pinnipeds will extend their flippers into the air and face them toward the sun while floating on the surface.3 This allows their poorly insulated flippers to absorb heat which is then circulated to the rest of the body.3 It is noteworthy that some cryptozoological researchers such as Bernard Heuvelmans and Michael Woodley have hypothesized that the alleged unknown animals of Lake Champlain may be long-necked otariids, based off of reports and possible photographs. However, other animals such as plesiosaurs may have taken part in such thermoregulatory behavior. A relict plesiosaur also seems like a candidate which would fit Scott's sighting better given the features like those of a leatherback turtle, and Scott has even referred to his sighting when asked why he considers the possibility of relict plesiosaurs.
Scott's illustration of the object he saw at Lake Champlain compared to two thermoregulating sea lions.
(Image Sources are here and here)
Whatever the object seen was, Scott's sighting is undeniably interesting, partly because of its location which has had a long history of longneck reports. As I have stated previously, intriguing evidence including the echolocation of an unidentifiable animal do make Lake Champlain one of the more evidenced of alleged unknown freshwater animal habitats. Although the brief observation period could be interpreted as support for the possibility of misidentification, I personally feel that the appearance and behaviors described make this report very compelling. In my correspondence with Scott Mardis, I have always respected his striving to examine every possible identity behind a report or photograph, and I thus feel that what Scott observed was very possibly an actual unknown animal.
A paste-up from Scott Mardis which compares the appearance of the "skin" on the alleged animal in the famed Mansi photograph with the skin of sea lions and that of a leatherback turtle, both animals which were compared to Scott's sighting in this article.
As a sort of bonus, here is a video of the man himself briefly speaking about the plesiosaur hypothesis in regard to Lake Champlain. This clip is from the Chasing Discovery documentary. Yes, "plesiosaur" is spelled incorrectly in the title, but the video is still a good cursory review of the hypothesis. Hopefully further investigations into Lake Champlain will determine if it truly is the habitat of longnecks or not.

  1. "Dolphin." Dolphin. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2014.
  2. Coleman, Loren, and Patrick Huyghe. The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep. New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2003. Print.
  3. "Aquarium of the Pacific." Aquarium of the Pacific. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2014.


  1. Another great thought-provoking article Jay, but I noticed you said Roy Mackal was a "biologist" while he was actually a microbiologist and who lost interest in studying microorgansisms when he took an interest in cryptozoology.

    Donald Prothero pointed this out in a Skepticblog post entitled "Credential Mongering" and also in a book he co-authored with Daniel Loxton called "Abominable Science! Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids" (I should read that one sometime soon...)

    1. Thank you! Okay, I'll fix that up :), although I don't like that there have been attempts to belittle the work of others by claiming that their choice of profession isn't "good enough" for what they are researching.

    2. Btw, I keep reading that he was a University of Chicago biologist so I'm not sure. Sharon Hill even said that, and she's usually well read on such things before she posts about them.

    3. Hi all. In the LNI 1966 Annual Report Dr Mackal is described as "Associate Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Chicago"; in his 1976 book, page 2, he relates speaking with a Bureau volunteer - "I told him I was a biologist...they were interested in my scientific background, although they lost interest when I told them my field was research with infectious viral deoxyribonucleic acid - a form of submicroscopoic life". On the back cover of the same book he is described as "Professor of Microbiology ... " and he worked in the Department of Biology at University of Chicago. I don't think the variety of labels or positions held really matter as the divisions between the scientific fields are pretty much arbitrary.

  2. She also went along with what Prothero said in an article update for "Doubtful News." Also, Prothero pointed out that he did work at the University of Chicago but as a microbiologist, not a biologist.

  3. The supposed flipper in the FC Adams photo looks nothing like the dorsal fin of the porpoise provided for comparison. Besides being blunter at the end, it is also a longer object and continues out from the body mass differently, seemingly off to the one side rather than from the midline of the back.. Also the object which Scott Mardis saw was not likely to be a head-neck because of the way the body extends out from beyond its juncture as a sort of continuing ridge, below the juncture, at the water line, but this effect could well be achieved if it was a foreflipper sticking out the side.

    Apart from being about the same approximate size, I see no resemblance between this object and a Leatherback turtle: furthermore the body of a leatherback is tapered back ike the body of a seal and not a rounded mass as in this sighting.

    I also think Eric Olsen's video shows a swimming quadruped and most likely a moose from the way the shape of the head looks as if it has a large rack of antlers protruding out the rear of the head in some shots: the variance in the shape of the head is due to the animal turning its head in different directions. Since we see several apparent shapes of the head and most do not match the shape of the protrusion in Mardis' sighting, it seems that any resemblance is accidental. Moreover the protrusion in Mardis' sighting is not situated at the front of the body as the head-neck in Olsen's video is, and the body of the creature in the Olsen video does not continue out in the same effect of a protruding ridge balow its juncture with the body as it does in the drawing Mardis made

    I also see NO support at any time that Champ is actually built like a Tanstropheus, and witnesses say the neck is much shorter than that. Thomas Finlay did catch the character of its head resembling a "Brontosaurus" (In the old, inaccurate reconstructions) which is insisted upon by some of the witnesses: It seems to me that the position of the eye in the drawing as shown is not exactly accurate for the reports, which refer to the eye as being more lateral more often.

    1. Dale: I never suggested any of the things which you have stated your thoughts on here, except for the leatherback turtle-like appearance of the object. But thanks for commenting and basically affirming what I said.

    2. Jay - if only you had copied more from my dolphin webpage :-)
      It reads - "The animal, however, is a dolphin, and the dorsal fin shape can vary quite widely and is used by marine zoologists to identify individual animals. If it were a modern picture the zoologists could tell you its name and that of its mother. (insert image as above here)
      Photo: Ben Wilson, University of Aberdeen / Sea Mammal Research Unit.

      I am very grateful to the staff at the Lighthouse Field Station, Cromarty, Scotland for their advice and assistance."

    3. I had read that but I didn't understand the context at the time—so marine biologists have identified it as a dolphin on the basis of the fin?

    4. Dale,me thinks you have "moose fixation".if that champ vid was a moose,how come it submerges and doesn't come back up?
      Maby a hybrid aquamoose,evolved to eat lake fish?

    5. The abc vid shows a long,long,neck.tanystropheas.And dennis hall encountered it walking in the reeds at night.he spent much time trying to match up what he saw ,and had videoed.

    6. I think the Tanystropheus hypothesis is very unlikely considering that there would have to be a ghost lineage starting around 200 million years ago and recent research indicates that Tanystropheus likely did not walk on the sea floor as suggested previously.

    7. However, I think Chuck Pogan's hypothesis on the ABC "Bodette footage" is worth noting here. He claims to have seen the whole footage before the owners sold it to ABC, and he thinks it shows an unknown long-necked turtle species. Here's a model of what he thinks is shown in the footage:

    8. Here's an intriguing comparison which he has done:

    9. And Anonymous, here's a comparison from Chuck Pogan which may interest you considering that you don't think the Olsen footage shows a moose:

  4. The ones I showed it to were of that opinion, and they were working on a dolphin photo-ID project. It continues over 20 years later - see

    1. Thanks! I'll update my article with this info once time allows.


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