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

Friday, September 12, 2014

Was Dennis Hall's "Baby Champ" A Mudpuppy Salamander?

Illustration of a juvenile Lake Champlain mystery animal, by Thomas Finley
The great caveat of cryptozoological research has long been, in many cases, the absence of type specimens for the mystery animals being sought after. This shortcoming has led to much criticism of this study of 'hidden' animals, and has even spurred heated debate among researchers of the field as to the ethics of deliberately killing an unknown animal to verify its existence. The discoveries or photographs of supposed 'cryptid' remains are few and far between, yet there are several eyewitness accounts detailing alleged finds. Although it has received little attention from cryptozoological researchers as a whole, one such case is that of the alleged juvenile Lake Champlain mystery animal caught by the father of Dennis Hall. Dennis Hall's research at this American lake first caught my attention when I watched a documentary featuring him several years ago. He illustrated his views regarding the appearance of alleged Lake Champlain mystery animals using a model of Tanystropheus longobardicus which I also possessed at that time. This hypothesis is certainly one which is now unsatisfactory in my mind, but I will leave discussion of this matter for future articles. While I retain respect for Hall due to his work in collecting eyewitness reports and the like, his unsubstantiated spectacular claims and several "Champ" videos (which appear to be nothing more than mundane objects distorted by heat waves) have since made me look at his work in a dubious light. Regardless, the discovery of a living, juvenile specimen belonging to an unknown species of animal living in an American lake would surely prove to be one of the greatest zoological finds of all time. Unfortunately, there are several issues with this allegation. In the article reproduced here, diligent researcher Scott Mardis takes a critical look at the "baby Champ" claims and develops the hypothesis that the animal in question was a misidentified mudpuppy salamander. As bizarre as the idea of someone mistaking a mudpuppy for a relict reptile from 245 million year ago sounds, I encourage you to read on. This is a case of excellent and rigorous investigative work on Scott's behalf, and it should be taken as an example for other researchers to follow.
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.