What is the Lake Champlain Monster?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

The Lake Champlain Monster, usually known as Champ, is a legendary creature believed by some to live in Lake Champlain near Burlington, Vermont. Like the Scottish lake monster of Loch Ness, Champ is considered by believers to be a lost relative of aquatic dinosaurs. A 1970s photo taken by an amateur photographer shows a large creature in the lake, but whether the photograph is real, distorted or a hoax remains a subject of great debate.

An audio recording of the Lake Champlain Monster seems to contain echolocation, a technique used by dolphins.
An audio recording of the Lake Champlain Monster seems to contain echolocation, a technique used by dolphins.

An alleged early story of the Lake Champlain Monster is credited to Samuel De Champlain, founder of Quebec and the man the lake is named for. In 1609, De Champlain is supposed to have reported seeing a large monster in the lake while fighting Iroquois on the banks of Lake Champlain. No true record of this sighting exists, and many experts believe the tale to be a hoax.

In 1883, a local sheriff claimed to have seen the monster, and his public announcement led to a flurry of other eyewitnesses to Champ’s mysterious appearances. According the sheriff’s claim, the monster was at least 20 ft (6 m) in length. Fervor grew for proof of the Lake Champlain Monster, and legendary showman P.T. Barnum offered a $50,000 US Dollar (USD) reward for the carcass of the animal.

What many Champ-proponents believe to be definitive proof of the monster’s existence came in the form of a photograph taken in the late 1970s by a woman named Sandra Mansi. The Mansi photograph shows a startling image of what appears to be a long-necked, dinosaur-like creature approximately 150 ft (45 m) away from the shore of Lake Champlain. Ms. Mansi witnessed the creature with her husband and two children, and claimed it kept its head out of the water for about four to seven minutes before diving under the water. Experts are divided on what the photo truly shows, with some suggesting the creature in the photo is size-distorted, and others suggesting it is merely a floating tree stump or large bird.

Believers in the Lake Champlain Monster think that it is related to the prehistoric plesiosaur, an aquatic reptile with a long, snake-like neck. The plesiosaur is believed to have become extinct as a result of the K-T extinction, when many dinosaurs and other early animals died out due to an immense environmental change. The Lake Champlain Monster, in order to be a plesiosaur, would either need to be a single 10,000 year old animal, or the result of a small, consistently breeding group. The first hypothesis is considered unlikely as no creature is known to live that long, the second is often dismissed because an active breeding population would likely be sighted more often.

Recent information in 2003 and 2005 has incited renewed interest in the Lake Champlain Monster. An audio recording was taken in 2003 by a film crew working for the Discovery Channel. The recording seems to contain echolocation, a technique used by dolphins and some whales to find food and locate obstacle. The recording, while similar to a beluga or killer whale, is believed to be from no species known to live in the lake.

In 2005, a video taken by two fishermen seems to show some animal just below the surface of the waters of the lake. Although the video is no longer available for public viewing, stills seem to show an animal that appears fish, dolphin, or eel-like, but believers claim is the elusive Lake Champlain Monster. Experts are unable to conclude what the video shows, and even the fishermen themselves are not sure what it was they filmed.

Studying Champ legends is a favorite pursuit of cryptozoologists, people who study unclassified and possibly unreal animals. As with the Loch Ness Monster, fully convincing people that Champ does not exist will probably never be possible. Marine biology experts claim that the lake could not sustain a breeding population of plesiosaurs, even if they had survived the K-T extinction. As of yet, scientists have been unable to produce an agreed-upon explanation for the echolocation, the Mansi photograph or the 2005 video.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments


Saw what was supposedly to be identified as "Champ" when working for the Town of Moriah Youth Commission in the summer of 1977. Mid afternoon we had the kids in the water at Sandy Beach in the south end of Port Henry on Bulwagga Bay. Myself and two other friends of mine were chest deep at the head of the oldest group of kids beyond the then roped off area and all of a sudden from shore two of our female co-leaders were screaming and pointing, "get the kids out of the water, look out!" I looked to where they were pointing, up to the north end of the bay where the municipal beach was, and I spotted a long black figure swimming totally underwater coming towards our group. It looked like someone was dragging a 15-18 foot log through the water. I had seen lake sturgeon before, fishing with my grandfather on the lake, but this one was fairly long. No head out of the water, no identifying characteristics as many "Champ" observers have described seeing. My buddies said, "I'm getting out of here" but I said, "Stay. It'll swim towards the bridge before it gets to us." Sure enough about 40 feet from us it veered off towards the bridge to Vermont and deeper water and swam away. No head out of the water, no fins above water, it was definitely, to my minds eye, a sturgeon. On shore the kids were yelling, hollering while we were laughing and our bus drive, Ray "Grinny" Weston was laughing his head off! Grinny said, "What in the hell did you scare those kids for" to the female attendants with us and he looked at me Craig, and Kevin and said, "what was it guys? A big fish right?" I nodded my head and we laughed even harder. Everyone but the four of us were convinced they had seen "Champ".

Later that day I asked my grandfather and my Uncle Gordon if sturgeon got that big and Gramp answered, "hell yeah, maybe even up to 20 feet or so." He explained that Lake Champlain is a very deep water, extremely cold lake even in the warm weather months. Sturgeon thrive in that type of conditions. Do I doubt the existence of the "Champ" creature? As a big sturgeon, sure! As a big pleisiosor, Nah!


There are a couple of people from Middlebury College that have been conducting a study on the possibility of the Lake Champlain monster. They use advanced side scan sonar to map the lake. The sonar is so detailed that logs and shipwrecks can be clearly identified in the lake. With such advanced equipment, they should surely be able to see evidence of Champ if he were really there. So far, nothing has been found to correlate Champ’s existence.


@dega2010: Yes, that is true. It was actually entitled “America’s Loch Ness Monster”. The team from Monster Quest wanted to take an in depth look at the lake monster called Champ. They did not find any conclusive evidence of the existence of Champ but they provided a lot of interesting information.

The team set up many land cameras near the spot of some of the sightings. The cameras rolled 24 hours a day. They also used two underwater cameras.

After many days and hundreds of hours of reviewed footage, they found no evidence of Champ.


Wasn't there an episode on the show Monster Quest where they investigated the Lake Champlain monster?

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