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

Sunday, March 9, 2014

An Interview With Chuck Pogan: Cryptozoological Researcher & Analyst of Alleged Lake Champlain "Monster" Footage

Thomas Finley's rendition of the unknown, long-necked turtle hypothesized by Chuck Pogan to account for lake and sea "monster"
reports.
As I mentioned in a recent article, I try to retain an open minded approach to the different hypotheses in cryptozoological research. I recently heard about a fellow researcher who has a rather novel hypothesis regarding the allegedly unknown animals reported as "lake monsters" and "sea serpents". The man's name is Chuck Pogan, and he is of the opinion that these animals are an unknown species of turtle. The turtle hypothesis is quite a tantalizing one, as there are several parallels with what the behavior and morphology of longnecks would possibly be (as inferred from reports, although it is important to note that too much speculation as to the nature of unknown animals is very prone to fallibility). The reptilian physiology of many turtle species allows them to retain great stealth through holding their breath for great periods of time, with some having the ability to burrow under the mud and hibernate while underwater. Some species can breath through their skin or cloaca while remaining fully submerged. Thus, the idea of a chelonian longneck would not necessarily be dampened by the common argument against an aquatic animal remaining unknown of its having to regularly surface to breath. However, this hypothesis is not simply based off of reports and the well known photographs which are available for scrutiny. Chuck Pogan has apparently had the ability to view and analyze the Bodette footage, a video which purportedly shows unknown animals in Lake Champlain. This video is popularly referred to as the "ABC Champ Video", and has been of great interest to cryptozoological researchers as myself. The film was taken in August of 2005 by Vermont anglers Richard Affolter and Peter Bodette, who claimed that they were able to move as close as twenty to thirty yards from the animal which had moved in a "serpentine manner". However, only a few seconds of the footage has been publicly shown by ABC News, and there is much more intriguing data in the full footage according to Chuck. I hope you enjoy this interview/discussion between Mr. Pogan and I. My input is bolded and Chuck's is preceded by italicized and underlined text. Please note that these are Chuck's own opinions and thoughts, and thus I am not necessarily in agreement with everything which he has stated. Therefore, if you have a strong disagreement with anything which Chuck has stated here, don't kill the messenger. But remember, if you're going to dispute something, be prepared to refute it.

Hi Mr. Pogan! I'm a colleague of Scott's and I was wondering if you'd discuss your turtle hypothesis with me?
Chuck Pogan: It would be my pleasure. I first thought of it when I was analyzing a video on YouTube called "Something Floating on Lake Champlain". It was shot by a Microbiologist on vacation, I guess. In the video, you can clearly see a giant turtle head looking around for two minutes. It's easy to see what it is; a couple of shots are very turtle-like. I just spent two years looking at it frame by frame. It's a black glossy skinned turtle head one foot out of the water and eighteen inches wide. When I first saw it I thought "wow, not only does Lake Champlain have a plesiosaur, but it also has these giant turtles", until I realized that this was the monster. From there I could "back engineer" the whole premise: could it be a turtle? What I found surprised me; they can do a lot of things and they should have been considered first. Last year I was allowed to view that Bodette video in its entirety; it was unreal.

The possible head of an unknown animal in Lake Champlain from the "Something Floating on Lake Champlain" video compared to the
 head morphology of a Hoan Kiem turtle, from Chuck Pogan. [JC: I had wondered if the head from this Lake Champlain video
could've been that of a sturgeon, which is plausible in my opinion. However, it does have some similarities to the features of a Hoan
Kiem turtle's head, and thus it's too ambiguous to be certain about its identity.]
Interesting. What was going on in the full Bodette video?
Chuck Pogan: ABC news showed very little of what was in that video, even though they were told they could use the whole thing. It shows the thing on top of the water wiggling it's neck. Also, they creep up on one with the trolling motor. It's just floating next to the boat, snapping it's jaws at Pete the photographer.
Stills from the Bodette footage segment aired on ABC News
That's just like what Discovery Chanel did with the Kelly Nash footage; it showed only a bit of allegedly important footage. How did you get permission to view the video?
Chuck Pogan: I called Pete Bodette at his house and talked to him; his lawyer comes down here to vacation. I hooked up with him in Captiva and viewed the video for a couple hours. We used a little frame by frame contrasting and light blasting.

Were you able to see a definite shell on the animal?
Chuck Pogan: Yes, the shell is very visible and even the lawyer calls the back of the animal "a carapace". There are actually three animals in the video. The back is covered by babies of different sizes getting a ride. Turtles with extended families; never heard of before. The creature swimming by the boat was 15 feet long with massive front fins and a neck as long as the shell, estimated at 6 feet long. Another bigger one makes a run at the boat, goes under the boat, and comes up on the other side. You can see a huge flat crocodilian tail flapping like crazy, which I've never heard of on a turtle before [JC: I later pointed out that snapping turtles possess thick tails which could be regarded as similar to those of crocodilians]. That one is swimming fast, like a dolphin.

A model from Chuck Pogan which he said is similar to what he and the other analysts of the Bodette video saw.

Are you going to try to persuade his lawyer to release it to the public?
Chuck Pogan: I was supposed to represent the video but there was a lot of legal stuff getting in the way, disclosure contracts and what not. I never hooked up with him like I was supposed to this year. I offered him $20,000 for the video but he told me that "Discovery Channel spends $100,000 just to put Liz on a boat for the day." I'm hoping maybe this spring when he comes down again I'll hook up with him again and bring Scott Mardis along. Pete told me "someday the right scientist will see this" and "I don't want this footage shown on a stupid Bigfoot show." The Bodettes know what they have and they know it's very amazing footage.

But they won't part with it?
Chuck Pogan: No; the lawyer goes online and busts anyone who has the footage posted. It's better than the Patterson Bigfoot because there is no way this can be fake.

Very compelling yet unfortunate. So, going a little bit off topic, do you think "sea serpents" are unknown species of turtles as well?
Chuck Pogan: After seeing these things: yes, I do. Bernard Heuvelmans talks a lot about sea-serpents as turtles and Karl Shuker's new book Mirabilis is heavy with giant turtle stories. Once they have big front flippers, they can go anywhere. Dermochelys [the leatherback sea turtle] has the widest distribution range of any animal, short of any whales, and can swim as fast as an Olympic sprinter can run.

Indeed; they're very successful animals it seems.Chuck Pogan: Just remember with your diagrams of aquatic turtles: very flat bodies are the sign of a streamline swimmer. In the documentary The Loch Ness Monster Revealed, they depicted the shell as roundish, which it probably isn't. Flat as a pancake is more like it; Trionychids are like that.
The Loch Ness Monster Revealed chelonian longneck compared to a streamlined Trionychid.
True, it does seem that such a configuration would be beneficial. I think the chelonian hypothesis is quite plausible considering that there are large, freshwater turtles which have been discovered only recently (e.g. Hoan Kiem turtle), but I was wondering how you think these animals give birth without being seen?
Chuck Pogan: They could be adapted for live birth like plesiosaurs were, although they might lay eggs at night and scope out unpopulated areas. But I think live birth, since I saw different sized babies with the adult on the Bodette video. After seeing that, anything is possible.

That would indicate a degree of invested paternal care.
Chuck Pogan: That is very advanced for reptiles, although skinks kind of do it a little.

Yes, I was just going to mention that. Plesiosaurs would've likely taken part in significant paternal care as well. You think the Mansi photo shows one of these animals, right?
Chuck Pogan: Yes; two actually. That hump to the left of it is a head of another one looking right at the camera, I believe.

Ah, yes, the 'ambiguous lump' interpreted as evidence for the object in the photograph as wood debris by some investigators.
Chuck Pogan: For skeptics it's easy to say that kind of stuff. Check out the comparison [posted below]; the shape of the back is very similar and the neck is long enough. I have a Turtle biology chart that confirms that the neck of the Australian snake-necked turtle can do that pose [also below]. Some skeptics have stated that the Mansi object could not be an actual animal because it appears that the neck does not attach to the back. Name me a turtle that does have a neck that attaches to its back; that's a shell.
Chuck Pogan's comparison between a tracing of the Mansi photograph subject and two Snake-necked turtles.

The photograph of an alleged unknown aquatic animal taken by Sandra Mansi. Check out this page for a compilation of analyses and comparisons involving the photograph.
The diagram of Snake-necked turtle neck flexibility which Chuck referred to.

Have you ever heard of the Gary Liimatta "Caddy" footage? Liimatta described the animal which he allegedly filmed as a "shelless turtle".
Chuck Pogan: Yes; it is very surreal. When I first saw it long ago, I thought "reptile" by the way it moves and goes under. It descends slowly, like a turtle.

Yes, I know what you mean. A lot of people criticized me for being so interested, due to its poor quality, but my observations were similar to yours.
Chuck Pogan: Stealth is their middle name. Try to sneak up on an aquatic turtle; it can't be done. Try to catch a sea turtle while scuba or skin diving; it can't be done.

Definitely, these animals seem to have a considerable amount of speed according to witnesses and some footage.
Chuck Pogan: On that The Loch Ness Monster Revealed show they presented their 'Plesioturtle' as being slow and clumsy. Not like Dermochelys, which is a speed demon. Even the guy who discovered the Stupendemys portrayed it that way after declaring its humerus to be "massive". That means that a huge flipper was attached. Look at the Dermochelys: that massive front fin is it's card blanche to worldwide travel. Also the streamline wing body integration, as they call it in the aircraft industry.

Indeed, you do have good points there. What do you think accounts for the oft reported humps?
Chuck Pogan: A great question, and here's the answer: babies riding on the back of an adult. The humps come and go when babies jump off and on; rigid humps as observed by Maurice Burton for the Loch Ness animals. I only figured it out after seeing the Bodette video. They aren't caused by undulations.


A diagram from Chuck Pogan which portrays his hypothesis as to the nature of the "humps" on unknown aquatic animals.



I don't think undulations of the body cause the humps, as well. I think these animals have rather spherical bodies; at least that's what the reports and possible photographs indicate to me.
Chuck Pogan: In the Bodette video, one is at the surface and it's wiggling its neck. It looks very serpentine, but that's all you see; no body is visible.

It seems to me that the animal in the Bodette footage segment shown on ABC News appears to snap its jaws when it rears its head near the boat. Quite compelling.
Chuck Pogan: If you look to the back of the picture you can see the edge of the shell. You can see the color change and there is a bevel like on the shell of Stupendemys. On the left side of the shell there is what I first thought was a fishing lure stuck on the edge. When I saw the video in person, we could see it was a baby taking a ride. Here's that notch in the top of the shell, same as I saw in the Bodette video [image is below].

Replica of a Stupendemys carapace.
It does seem like there's something which rises where you say the shell is, although it isn't clear as to what (if anything significant) it is.
Chuck Pogan: That's probably it. If you contrast and light blast it you can see it better. Here's a nice image of a turtle which is stealth breathing [image is below].

Stealth Breathing photo stealthbreathing_zps7a3227dc.jpg
Snake-necked turtle which is breathing rather discreetly.
Impressive! The argument that these animals can't be air breathing species because they would regularly be seen surfacing is quite faulty, it seems.
Chuck Pogan: Plus, when turtles breath, their diaphragms do not expand so they don't make a breathing sound when taking in air. Thus, they could be right next to your boat and you wouldn't hear them getting air. I live down in Florida and have a house on the ocean. I can hear when there are manatees or dolphins in the bay. Mammals tend to make snorting sounds; you hear them.

What do you think about the "hair" and "horns" which are sometimes reported on these animals?
Chuck Pogan: The mane, horns, and tubes are caused by the juveniles hanging onto the face and neck. When I examined that Bodette video, I saw a frame where the babies were swarming on the parent's face. Tubules and barbels like those of a mata mata too, but my take is that they are always carrying juveniles.
File:Chelus fimbriatus.jpg
A mata mata with fleshy growths on its neck and tubules on its face. 
Well, thank you for discussing all of this with me. It's quite interesting. Do you have anything else to add?
Chuck Pogan: No. It was a lot of fun talking with you. My brother and I enjoy your webpage.

15 comments:

  1. Excellent !I wish you to succeed in your studies. For the frivolous side : Lapras the Pokémon is based on a Plesioturtle.

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    1. Thanks Bos. I thought you knew that was the only reason I was interested in this field, to look for real life Lapras? Just kidding, of course.

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  2. Haven't there been many expeditions by self-professed cryptozoologists to find the alleged cryptid in Lake Champlain using submarines and sonar that went up and down the lake without finding it?

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    1. I believe you're referring to Loch Ness. In that case, there have been sonar hits.
      http://www.njan.org/files/Sonar%20Serendipity%20in%20Loch%20Ness,%20Technology%20Review,%20Dec.%201976.pdf

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  3. I think that if the giant turtle hypothesis is correct, though, you may be able to explain this by saying that there wouldn't have to be too many giant turtles to sustain a breeding population in Lake Champlain because some turtles (sea turtles, for instance) can live for hundreds of years, or even that because of this it is possible that a single female giant turtle got into the lake (possibly with its babies to account for the humps, or perhaps the babies were born IN the lake) and either got trapped or choose to stay and (along with its possible babies) accounts for the many alleged sightings of "Champ."

    And as you and Chuck Logan mention, there's also the possibility of the hypothetical creatures breathing through their skin, burrowing into the mud for hybernation, adapting to giving live birth instead of coming on land to lay eggs as plesiosaurs are now known to have done, and also the probability that they wouldn't make lots of sounds we would notice.

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    1. It is also worth mentioning that Fly River turtles, which happen to be unique among freshwater turtles due to having flippers, lay eggs which must be flooded with water in order to hatch.

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  4. "I believe you're referring to Loch Ness." Actually I was talking about Lake Champlain, including one expedition that was shown on History Channel's popular "Monsterquest" where they went up and down the lake trying to lure Champ in with a camera disguised as some kind of fish but failed to lure him (or her) in, causing one of the disappointed crew members to say it might not have been the right season (perhaps because the alleged creature was hibernating like you and Chuck suggested it might if its actually a giant turtle?).

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    1. Ah, okay. As extensive sonar surveying as has been done in Loch Ness has not occurred in Lake Champlain, to my knowledge. Incidentally, that fish cam experiment was led by Scott Mardis who thinks it's possible that these animals may burrow under silt for long periods of time.

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  5. Intriguing interview! I feel compelled to check out this footage for myself now.

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    1. I would have included a link to the segment of the video online if Blogger would not have been malfunctioning and preventing me from doing so. Unfortunately, the copy of the news segment online is not of the quality which it was originally presented in, as well.

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  6. My gut instinct is that you have nailed what a lot of lake monster/sea serpent sightings are, but definitive proof, ie. a live or dead specimen or biological sample, is still required. By the way, have any of you looked at that Youtube video posted at Frontiers of Zoology that showed at the end of a Lake Champlain boating trip as it pulled into a cabin dock, some sort of long-necked turtle-like object obviously staring at the approaching boat, with little round ones all around it? The video abruptly stops. Close-up still from the video were also posted and look animal-like. I contacted the poster of the video on Youtube and he said that was just old brush that they have now cleared! Maybe people who spend a lot of time around that lake know more than they are letting on and don't want outsiders bothering these creatures? Same goes for Loch Ness...

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    1. It's certainly a possibility. Regarding that video, I suspected wood debris when I saw it so I wouldn't doubt that it's just brush. I do think long-necked reptiles or reptile-like animals do possibly exist at places like Champlain and Ness, though.

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    2. And such animals may inhabit the shore for short periods of time, as you mentioned. There are quite a few sightings of longnecks on land at Loch Ness and Lake Champlain. One very interesting example is Torquil MacLeod's report, in which he reported a 60 foot long animal which was partially ashore and had grey skin, a tail, squarish flippers (two pairs), and a projection which was described as being like a large elephant trunk (this apparently moved from side to side as if it was scanning the surrounding Loch).

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  7. Okay, this is what I am talking about. Long-time Champ researcher Dennis Hall and others have also claimed to have seen long-necked reptiles on shore or in nearby swamps...

    http://frontiersofzoology.blogspot.ca/2014/01/two-champ-videos.html

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNGZVPaxr5k

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