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

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Blog On A "Log": An Analysis of The Mansi Photograph By Scott Mardis

Illustration of a Lake Champlain mystery animal, by Thomas Finley.

A few weeks ago, Scott Mardis sent me an article on a photograph which he and several other researchers think may show a long-necked unknown aquatic animal caught in the act of surfacing. The image which I am referring to is none other than the well-known and oft-scrutinized Mansi photograph taken at Lake Champlain in 1977. The picture was obtained when Sandra Mansi and her family took a stop by Lake Champlain during a trip. Her children were playing in the water when, suddenly, an animal with a long neck and head atop a rather large body surfaced about fifty yards away from them. For several years after this event, Sandra Mansi kept the photograph hidden from others due to fear of ridicule or harassment. Regardless of the animal-like features described by Sandra Mansi, there has been some recent suggestion that the object may simply be driftwood which burst to the surface and startled her. I once agreed with this line of thinking, but Scott's article and my research into worldwide longneck reports have made me start to think otherwise. While I am still open-minded towards the driftwood hypothesis, the details of what Mansi reported the object was doing (e.g. moving its head around and submerging in a vertical manner) and similarities with other promising reports and photographs make me think that the animal hypothesis is quite plausible as well. Although the probable length of the object (as mentioned in Scott's article) may seem small for an animal which is behind reports of "lake monsters", it is worth noting that some plesiosaurs such as Umoonsasurus only grew to around eight feet long and the "animal" in the photograph may very well be a juvenile. It is also worth noting that some known species of animals, such as turtles and crocodiles, can exhibit a wood-like appearance. But enough of my introductory rambling; please enjoy this excellent guest post by Scott Mardis.


This is a guest post by Scott Mardis. Scott has been an active field investigator of the Lake Champlain “Monster” since 1992. He is a former sustaining member of the defunct International Society of Cryptozoology and a former volunteer worker in the Vertebrate Paleontology Dept. of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences (1990-1992). He co-authored a scientific abstract about the Lake Champlain hydrophone sounds for the Acoustical Society of America in 2010. He currently lives in Bradenton, Florida.


Blog On A "Log" (?) by Scott Mardis

Yesterday at the ECHO Science Center in Burlington, Vermont, the original print of Sandra Mansi’s famous “Champ” picture was put on public display. Sandra Mansi donated the original print to the organization in March of 2011 (see here). Two forensic studies of the photo have tried to make the case that the object is simply a floating log or tree trunk. Ben Radford’s analysis for the Center for Inquiry is here and Darren Naish’s study is here. Radford’s analysis concluded that the assumed neck of the object was about 3 feet long and the presumed body was about 6 feet long. To my knowledge, there are no known aquatic or semiaquatic animals in the Lake Champlain Basin with these body proportions. If you take the possibility of some animal like a relict plesiosaur or an unknown long-necked seal off the table, a floating piece of debris with coincidentally relevant shape to an animal is a parsimonious interpretation. Bearing all this in mind, the absolute identity of the object in the Mansi photograph is dependent on either the discovery of an artifact in Lake Champlain with this exact shape or an animal type specimen that conforms to the general morphology of the Mansi object. Shortcomings to the provenance of the veracity of the Mansi photograph include the loss of the photographic negative and Mansi’s apparent hesitancy to reveal the exact location of where the photo was taken. Sociologist Robert Bartholomew discusses these issues here. Some have inferred nefarious reasons for Mansi’s reluctance to reveal the location. I suspect it may be to protect the animals from being discovered and harassed. While I was at Lake Champlain in the summer of 2013, one of my projected goals was to put the Mansi tree stump idea to the test by trying to recreate a similar image with a piece of found drift wood. Let me state that I am personally inclined to believe that Mansi’s photo is probably of a Champ animal. I was unable to find a suitable piece of driftwood for the experiment. However, going to the St. Albans, Vermont region of Lake Champlain (the general area where Mansi claims to have taken her photo), I was able to take a photo that very much resembles the background in her photo.
After my return to Florida, I searched the internet for images of driftwood that might resemble the Mansi photo to try and do some sort of experiment. The results are below (this montage includes images from Radford’s and Naish’s study, as well, for comparison).

The image in the lower right is a piece of wood that has been purposely cut to look that way. Naish’s interpretation is in the center and Radford’s hypothetical stump is center right. While the results are interesting, Mansi’s image looks more like an animal to me. The object to the left of the “neck” in Mansi’s photo that Naish says is inconsistent with a tetrapod’s body plan may simply be a wave. It is hard to interpret. Additionally, some pieces of driftwood can have the shiny consistency of what you see in the Mansi photo.
Before we abandon the “unknown animal” hypothesis for the Mansi photo, though, let’s step back and look at some of the other arguments. Marine mammals and reptiles can have shiny skin like this, also.


The “head” of the object in the Mansi photo looks remarkably like the head of an aquatic monitor lizard, Varanus salvator.
Cryptozoologist sculptor/artist Jeff Johnson has made his own hypothetical interpretation of the Mansi photo below.
 I recently found scientific artwork depicting a real juvenile plesiosaur (a Leptocleidus) with flippers this big (Benjamin Kear, “A JUVENILE PLIOSAUROID PLESIOSAUR (REPTILIA: SAUROPTERYGIA) FROM THE LOWER CRETACEOUS OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA” J. Paleont., 81(1), 2007, pp. 154–162)
Regarding the problems with neck flexibility in plesiosaurs relative to the neck posture in the Mansi photo, the above juvenile plesiosaur also had more vertical neck flexure than most plesiosaurs. It’s also possible that the animal in the Mansi photo may been swimming upside down.
 It was pointed out by the late, great J. Richard Greenwell the remarkable resemblance between the objects in the Mansi photo and the controversial “Surgeon’s photo” from Loch Ness (“Tracing Monsters”, Cryptozoology, Vol. 6, 1987, pg. 137-138)
While some in the cryptozoology community have accepted the hoax allegations made about the Surgeon’s photo in 1994 (whose entire provenance rests on verbal evidence), a significant number have not.
Clifford A. Paiva, an aerospace engineer, along with his organization BSM Associates, has done several impressive computer enhancements of the Mansi photo as well, possibly with optical enhancement techniques as sophisticated as those used by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (links to such enhancements are here and here).

And, finally, there is also some resemblance between the object in the Mansi photo and the object in the 2005 Bodette “Champ” video and Robert Rine’s famous 1975 underwater photo from Loch Ness.

Whatever the true identity of the object in the Mansi photo, I suggest we keep the driftwood idea in mind but don’t give short shrift to other potential interpretations. Hopefully, time will resolve this mystery to everyone’s satisfaction.

18 comments:

  1. Jay if you have ever heard her talk about her sighting it is hard to image a log and not a prehistoric life form. I finally got to speak with her in person and what compelled me to believe her was the validation in her story and the excitement still in her voice and I know how that feels.

    When she was telling me of her sighting and recalls it crystal clear-- it is something you never forget. When she was not frightened but wanting to know what it was -- I unsderstood her question.

    There is no way she saw a mere log -- she saw Champ!

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    1. I would love to have that opportunity. I think that the animal hypothesis is quite plausible if you keep in mind the behaviors and features that she described.

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    2. Doesn't she think that the animals are archaeocetes? I thought I heard that somewhere.

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  2. Interesting article, but, as I have said before, I'm a bit suspicious of Paiva's work because he is also a young earth creationist and 9/11 truther, isn't he?

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    1. While I don't agree with those contentions of his, I don't think that one's personal beliefs should necessarily discredit any of their findings (unless their beliefs involve hoaxing). He may have interpreted the results differently due to his bias towards relict plesiosaurs, but otherwise I don't think he was purposely wrong or hoaxing.

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  3. I'm not saying that I don't think he may have stumbled upon something important in this case, in fact, in this case his results even seem sort of likely to me, just that we should be especially careful and remember that young-earth creationists always take a sort of "vow" before examining evidence that their results can't be at odds with their presupposed idea that all life on earth was created at the same time and thrived together just a few thousand years ago, an idea which would have 0 merit from existing evidence, relict plesiosaurs or no relict plesiosaurs.

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    1. Yes, I agree. I find it unfortunate that such extreme literalism must occur. I am a devout Catholic yet I have no issue with the theory of evolution. I feel that it can exist in accordance with God.

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  4. BTW, Finley's painting shown in this article portrays champ as having a structure sort of similar to the "frill" of the long-necked animal reportedly seen by the crew of the Valhalla off the coast of Brazil.

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    1. Yes, I have noticed that as well. Other reports of alleged longnecks such as Commander Meiklem's, Alastair Dallas', and the Lake Khaiyr animal (there was allegedly a confession to the report being a hoax but researchers like Dale Drinnon, Scott Mardis, and myself suspect that this "confession" was done to end ridicule) have mentioned dorsal structures similar to that on the Valhalla animal.

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  5. Considering the constant implying that the Mansi crime scene can't be located, it looks to me that Mr. Mardis has located as good an area for it to have happened as one could imagine.

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  6. What do you think these strange dorsal structures actually are, Jay?

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    1. Possibly dorsal crests of some sort.

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  7. I think this photo may show fighting giant salamanders whiches inadvertently got dredged to the surface, hence the curved tail sticking out the water, the bizarre position and the relative small size of the creature.
    http://scienceblogs.com/tetrapodzoology/2010/12/03/close-up-to-andrias/

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    1. Interesting hypothesis. I myself actually wondered if it could've been two long-necked animals mating as whales do. That could explain the allegation of some analysts that the "head and neck" are not connected to the "body". However, I don't think that Mansi would have seen it as all one animal at the surface, if that was the case. It doesn't appear that she reported any thrashing or violent movements.

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  8. The reason we don''t see these creatures very often is because they live deep underground, and only seldom make the trip through subterranean caverns necessary in order to appear in surface lakes (perhaps in order to spawn).

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    1. I personally think it's more likely that they travel to and from the sea at certain times via outlet rivers, but perhaps you're right.

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  9. the photo is clear.it is not impossible and it is not driftwood.
    look like a plesiosaur possible a young one.and there has to be more than one.
    making a trip out to the lake in the summer of 2015 to do some hiking and fishing
    cant wait to check out the lake trout ! and just maybe champ!

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