Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday's News Today


On this day in 2003 the largest hailstone ever recorded fell in Aurora, Nebraska, USA. The ball of ice had a diameter of 18cm and a circumference of 47.6 cm when measured.

And now, the news, once again thanks to our intrepid news blogger Gavin Ll Wilson who has served up a bumper selection today for your enjoyment:

Do big cats exist in the Hills?
New 'high' light for Cotswold Wildlife Park
Possible Bigfoot sighting
Bigfoot in the CSRA?
Bigfoot afoot? Local legend resurfaces after report
Whistling ducks appear to be nesting in Augusta
On the hunt for the big cat that refuses to die
Carnivorous mammals track fruit abundance
Day of the scorpion as exotic fauna finds home
Toddler taken to hospital after fox attack
Siberian tiger threatened by mystery disease
Worry grows over white-nose syndrome's widening
Archaeology: Central Europe’s Oldest Cave Drawings
Cougar on the prowl near Morden
Groundbreaking grizzlies make it to Missouri
Snake gives van owner the slip

He managed to ‘snake’ off his pursuers…

RICHARD FREEMAN: Legends of Lincolnshire #2

Ghost in a Box

A woman at Tupholm who died from neglect. Afterwards her husband married the woman who ought to have attended to her. The ghost of the dead woman haunted the cottage until her spirit was laid in a box and buried in the cottage by a clergyman; but when the man died in 1840 and the cottage was taken down, the workmen broke open the box in which the woman's spirit had been laid for thirty years, but it then burst forth, with such a sound as if all the trees in the neighbouring wood were falling, so that the workmen ran away in terror.

LINDSAY SELBY: Lake Hodges monster

There is apparently a monster in Lake Hodges. Lake Hodges is in fact a reservoir. Hodges Lake itself is 6.5 miles long and has 19 miles of shoreline.

The story of the lake creature starts in 1916 when a Col. Ed Fletcher convinced the Santa Fe Railroad to create a dam to provide water for the new town being built up.The river that runs in to the lake had run through the Del Dios valley for 40,000 years.. Reports of the indigenous people’s warnings about a river creature are dismissed as an attempt to stop the project. In 1919 the construction was finished creating a dam at the end of Lake Hodges to create a much larger lake.

In 1921 some local San Diego fishermen report seeing .a large disturbance in the water. Rumours that the Navy may have been conducting underwater tests on early submarines were denied by the U.S. Navy .

Then in 1923 there were more complaints from local Lake Hodges fishermen reported. In the same year both the mines in the area report their heavy rock extraction equipment had been pushed over or partially crushed. The Sheriff wrote a report that said whoever did it appears to have used a boat to get to the mines and must have wiped away any footprints, as none were seen.

In 1929 the Escondido Mayor John L. Offitt formally requests that the City of San Diego look into reports of a creature in Lake Hodges.

In 1930 the researchers reported no conclusive evidence of a creature but although one assistant did report seeing a lizard-like head breaking the surface of the lake .

In 1931 a boat docked on a small pier was destroyed. Once more no footprints are found and the police write in their report that there appears to have been "...great turmoil under the water along the base of the pier, from a boat or underwater vessel...or perhaps a large creature."

In 1932 attempts were made to capture the Lake Hodges monster. A large cage-like trap was made and a small sea lion was secured inside as bait. Cameras held underwater in glass containers . Nothing was captured but the sea lion bait disappeared and one photograph was taken from one of the buoy cameras. The project was cancelled after a public outcry when it became known that sea lions were being used as bait.

Then in 1956 highly toxic chemicals were put in the lake to kill all of the fish. The lake was then restocked with new fish.. An anonymous statement written on City of San Diego letterhead stated that officials were not just attempting to kill the carp in the lake but also the monster.

The story should have ended there but in 1966 a family picnic outing turned into a frightening experience when a large creature surfaced about 150 feet (48 metres) offshore. There were in total seven eye witnesses whose stories all corroborated. So either the lake monster(nicknamed Hodgee) was not in the lake when it was poisoned or was immune to it. Perhaps the dose wasn’t high enough to kill a large creature.

An article from May 15, 2005

Ron Hall knows a lot more about Hodgee than I do. He walks the lake almost every day. He could tell you everything on the Monster History Web site (www.hodgee.com/history.html). He knows that local Native Americans warned about a river creature in the region before the Hodges Dam was built in 1918. He knows there were many reported sightings after the dam was completed. (The last one was in 1966). There's even a photograph that verifies that the lake at least used to be home to something that can truthfully be described as a "lump." Leonard Nimoy did not rush out to do an "In Search Of" episode. But Hall, 76, still leads Hodgee hunters on lake tours. (The next will be July 9). Hodgee is a hook to lure visitors. Kids love it. "It makes a good story," Hall said. "Anything to get people to come out." The abundant rainfall has perked up the local flora and fauna, and Hall, a volunteer with the San Dieguito River Park, tells the uninitiated what they're seeing. He also goes into Hodges' history and describes the water project that will stabilize the lake level.
"I also talk about the American Indian lore," Hall said. "It's a nice outing."

However I found when researching this that there is supposed to a volcanic fault in the lake bed. So earth tremors which would explain the wrecked boats, mining equipment and disturbances in the water but not the head nor humps seen by some eye witnesses. Being a man-made lake has not stopped other lakes being the supposed home of lake monsters and it was originally a smaller lake before the river was dammed so some large fish or creature could have been trapped there.

To find out more :http://www.hodgee.com/ “The LHSRC is a research organization that is dedicated to learning more about the unexplained phenomena related to Lake Hodges. In particular, we are focused on the so-called "Lake Hodges Monster," known locally as "Hodgee."”

DALE DRINNON: The VALHALLA Sea-Serpent Sighting

Under the discussion of the Super-eels, I indicated that Heuvelmans' idea was that the creature sighted by two naturalists aboard the ship Valhalla was a large eel, one with a continuous dorsal fin starting abruptly some distace from the front, and only the first part of it showing above the water. I cropped an illustration of a conger eel short to show how such a fin might look on such a creature and indicated that doubtless the arrangement would be the simplest explanation for the "finbacked" series of reports.

That would probably be the easiest explanation for other scientists that look into these things. The Valhalla incident is famous for being one of the only Sea-serpent sightings directly viewed by observers (there are also a handful of others, including a couple that make crucial determinations about the nature of the majority of Sea-serpent reports)

However I am not comfortable with that explanation and the main reasons why are provided by the witness Meade-Waldo. He indicated that there was evidence for a larger body under water and he later told Oudemans that he thought the body was Plesiosaur-shaped. One gathers the impression that he inclined toward Oudemans' camp on the subject.

If this was a type of Eel-like fish, the body would have to be unusually long and slender, and the fin on the back higher than the thickness of the body below it. And neither the head or the forepart of the body as indicated looks anything like a large moray eel.

There is a problem in the illustrations to the report as indicated, which evidently follow closely on the sketches of the original witnesses. They are disproportionate, the neck part is too long and the fin part too short given the measurements in the description. I have done a fast pasteup to bring the parts back into something like the correct relative proportions. And after considering the matter long and hard, I still think the proportions are more like the Plesiosaurian category and the "fin" part merely the typical "Hump" part of the back as commonly reported. the "Hump" can be reported as rather steep and with an exaggerated raised sharp edge along the spine. In which cases, the "Back Fin" seems to be a crest continuing the "Mane" of the neck.

This is also not a large creature as measured against other similar reports. The neck is not more than ten feet long and the total length not more than thirty feet. Thirty feet is however the lower end for "Merhorse" sightings as given by Heuvelmans, and this would therefore be a young male just coming into breeding array. I have speculated that the "Manes" in such creatures are temporary, that they are shed and grow back for the next breeding season, owing to the extremely high variability of reported "Manes". Among other things, males seem to rip patches of each other's "Manes" out in duels over females, such that different males have them on different sections of their neck, and usually rather patchy looking rather than continuous (Costello indicates the manes of the males as being on only part of the neck in his composite, but other reports insist on the continuous back-crest or fleshy "fin" from head to tail. And the consensus of opinion is that the "Mane" is fleshy and spiky or bristly, and does not consist of hair but has a consistency more like seaweed.)

The naturalist-witnesses in the Valhalla sighting also said that the creature seen by the Daedalus could easily also be of the same type. That might well be true because that one was also a "Merhorse" of similar colouration pattern and one marked by the appearance of a "Mane" that looked like seaweed.


This seems as appropriate a time as any other to explain a little about the workings of this blog in particular, and the CFZ in general. Recently, our old friend Highland Tiger commented on what he saw as inconsistencies within the CFZ. Now, I have usually made it a policy to pay little or no attention to what he has to say, but - on this occasion - I think he might actually have a point, and so I would like to clarify the situation.

There is no such thing as an official CFZ viewpoint on the existence, or non-existence of any cryptids, or the merits (or otherwise) of any specific author. HT seems to think that there is an anomaly whereby the CFZ is prejudiced against the work of the two Harpurs whilst praising the equally esoteric work of Doc Shiels and John Michel. This is simply not so.

Although, Richard F allegedly dislikes Patrick Harpur's Daemonic Reality, and allegedly Neil Arnold disapproves of Merrily's book, this is not official CFZ policy. Why? Because the CFZ has no policy on the matter.

I am on perfectly friendly terms with both Harpurs, and although I disagree with her conclusions, I enjoyed Merrily's book immensely. It is perfectly true that I am both a friend and a fan of Tony 'Doc' Shiels, and that I was a friend and still a fan of the late John Michell. This is has no bearing on my relationship with the CFZ or anyone in it. It basically means that I am an old hippy.

Various members of the CFZ disagree on all sorts of things. For example, Richard likes Goth music, Neil mod music and I like an esoteric mix of avant garde, prog, punk and alternative country. We don't come to blows about that. Why should we?

There seems to be an unfortunate illusion that the CFZ is some sort of Fortean Scientology Cult with me as its Elron, or worse possibly its Xenu. This is nonsense - we are a society of people whose interests include natural history, cryptozoology and books and who beleive that the world would be a much better place if people paid more attention to all three of these things. We are nothing more and nothing less than that.

Which brings me on to the blog.

The blog is a forum where people can discuss cryptozoology, natural history, books with occasional asides about progressive rock music and politics. As long as people promote their viewpoint in a civilised and non-antagonistic manner, and as a long as it is not blatant nonsense, I will post most things, including (HT please note) comments critical of articles posted by members of the CFZ. None of us, including me, are above criticism, and I would not wish us ever to be so. Again, there is no official viewpoint on the subjects we write about, and so if (for example) I was to post an article by Fred Smith stating "BIGFOOT DOES NOT EXIST" this is not an indication that I personally, or the CFZ generally agrees with the non-existent Mr Smith. It merely means that Mr Smith has written an article in a reasonable cogent manner, and presented it in a non-combative way. I would be quite happy to post an article by Mrs Sally Jones taking a diametrically opposite view the next day. However if Mrs Jones wrote an article suggesting that Mr Smith was a complete %^&* for writing his original article, or tried to post a comment saying this, then it would be censored. End of story.

I posted the comments by Aaron T about a posting by Neil Arnold the other day, because - although they disagreed with Neil - they did so in a perfectly gentlemanly manner. And as long as the debate remains civilised I will continue to post anything on-topic that is sent to me.

I hope that this clears up any misunderstandings.

MICHAEL NEWTON: “Champlain Bubbles”

Hoaxes are the bane of cryptozoological research worldwide. Throughout recorded history, those who investigate reports of unknown, unexpected animals have been compelled to deal with frauds, practical jokes, and “silly season” filler in the press. Wisconsin hoaxers made a giant snake from painted cotton cloth in 1849. Nine years later, the coordinates for a sea serpent sighting placed it deep in the Libyan desert. In July 1885 an Ohio newspaper fabricated the capture of a 1,200-pound aquatic monster off the coast of Maine.

Today, hoaxes are facilitated by Photoshop software and CGI technology, producing images of crystal clarity and startling effect. In June 2010 alone, the CFZ exposed two suspect “dogman” videos within as many days. Professional debunkers seize upon such incidents to brand cryptozoology a pseudo-science and dismiss it out of hand.

And yet, for every bogus “Nessie tooth” or cut-rate Bigfoot costume lying crumpled in a con man’s freezer, there are other hoaxes perpetrated in the name of truth and reason. Curiously, journalists who pride themselves on placing “monster” sightings underneath a microscope—or treating them to knee-jerk ridicule—often accept such “revelations” as the gospel truth, without a hint of critical examination. That peculiar double standard has inspired me to review some headline “exposés” from recent years which seem, on balance, to be more disinformation than enlightenment.

Case No. 1 involves the Mansi photograph of an alleged cryptid in Lake Champlain.

* * *

Dividing New York from Vermont, with its northern tip in Canada, Lake Champlain is 110 miles long, with a surface area of 435 square miles. Its average depth is 64 feet, with a maximum recorded depth of 440 feet. It bears the name of French explorer Samuel de Champlain, who “discovered” it in 1609, with help from aboriginal scouts. Some accounts claim that Champlain was also the first European to sight the lake’s legendary cryptid—later dubbed “Champ”—but those reports stem from an erroneous “quotation” from Champlain’s diary, published by the Vermont Journal in 1970.1

In fact, the first “genuine” Champ sighting dates from July 1819, with 339 recorded by July 2005. American showman P.T. Barnum offered $50,000 for Champ’s capture in 1873, scaled back to $20,000 in 1887, but neither bid produced a specimen.2

Most lake monster believers agree that the best evidence of Champ’s existence is a photograph snapped on 5 July 1977 and published for the first time four years later.

Anthony and Sandra Mansi (then engaged to be married) , with two children from Sandra’s previous marriage, had camped at Vergennes, Vermont, on 4 July, and stopped along the lake’s shore the following day, near St. Albans. While the children played, Sandra noted a disturbance in the water, some 150 feet offshore. At first, she took it for “an elephant tuna fish,” then a scuba diver, until a “dinosaur” head and neck rose some six feet above the surface.3 As she described what happened next:

The rest of the neck came out of the water and then the hump came out. And it looked around, it never swam, it just looked around, like this. And it was the texture like that of an eel. You know how an eel looks slimy and shiny if the light is on it somewhat. That was the texture of it. It was kind of slow moving and really quite majestic. But I was terrified. And I thought that sucker had legs and was coming out on shore.4

Before fleeing with her family, Sandra snapped a photo with her Kodak Instamatic camera, placing it in an album and keeping the incident secret until autumn 1979, when she contacted Dr. Philip Reines, professor of communications at State University of New York in Plattsburgh. Reines introduced Mansi to Champ researcher Joseph Zarzynski, who in turn delivered the photo to Dr. George Zug, then curator of reptiles and amphibians at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

On 9 July 1980, Dr. Zug wrote to Zarzynski: “The Mansi photograph is fascinating and quite good considering the circumstances under which it was taken. Unfortunately, I can offer no equivocal identification....Certainly all our examinations cast no doubts on the authenticity of their photograph and report.”5

Zarzynski next contacted Dr. Roy Mackal at the University of Chicago, who sent Mansi’s photo to colleague J. Richard Greenwell at the University of Arizona. Greenwell arranged for Dr. B. Roy Frieden, a mathematical physicst, to examine the photo at UA’s Optical Sciences Center. Frieden’s report, issued on 30 April 1981, declared that “the photo does not appear to be a montage or a superimposition of any kind.” The sole “suspicious detail” was a horizontal “brownish streak,” identified as a probable sandbar by some unnamed former resident of Lake Champlain’s vicinity whom Frieden consulted. While accepting that judgment without further evidence, Frieden granted that “There is another school of thought that says since it’s dark, maybe it means deep water.”6

If it was a sandbar, Frieden wrote, “there is a distinct possibility that the object was put there by someone, either the people who took the photo or by the people who were fooling them, because you could simply walk out on such a sand bar and tow the object behind you and hide behind it as you made it rise out of the water and so forth....[I]f the sand bar question is resolved and the fact that it’s not a sand bar can be really confirmed, then there’s much smaller likelihood of this being a hoax.”7

Three decades after the fact, the sandbar question has not been resolved (though skofftics take it for granted), yet questions remain. It seems impossible that any third party could drag a makeshift monster out from shore in full view of the Mansis, then submerge it (on a sandbar!) and make it rise again, all while remaining invisible. Thus, if there was a willful hoax, the Mansis must have been active participants.

There is no rational alternative.

* * *

The New York Times broke Mansi’s story on 30 June 1981, with a summary of Dr. Frieden’s findings and a black-and-white print of the photo (http://www.cryptomundo.com/bigfoot-report/champ-photo). By then, the Times announced, the photo’s negative was missing. Maclean’s and Time magazines ran copies of the original color photo simultaneously on 13 July 1981 (http://www.cryptomundo.com/bigfoot-report/champ-photo). Predictably, the ensuing debate was intense.

Next to weigh in on the Mansi photo was Dr. Paul LeBlond, head of the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of British Columbia and a founding director of the International Society of Cryptozoology. Writing for the premiere issue of the ISC’s peer-reviewed journal in winter 1982, Dr. LeBlond offered an estimate of Champ’s dimensions calculated from surrounding waves.

Using the Beaufort scale (http://www.spc.noaa.gov/faq/tornado/beaufort.html) to estimate wind speed from the appearance of the lake’s surface, LeBlond gauged the distance between visible waves, thus determining that “Champ stretches from 1.5 to 2 wavelengths at the water line: this dimension ranges from an extreme lower bound of 4.8m [16 ft.] to an extreme upper bound of 17.2m [56 ft.].” Thus, the original Mansi estimates of Champ’s total length as 12-15 feet (Sandra) or 15-20 feet (Anthony) fell into the lower possible size range. Dr. LeBlond also dismissed the hidden sandbar hypothesis as “inconsistent with the behavior of the waves traveling over that area.”8

While Dr. LeBlond was preparing his piece for Cryptozoology, the ISC’s newsletter broke further news from Arizona, where Roy Frieden had subjected the Mansi photo to electronic enhancement and reverse image contrast processing. Based on those studies, he concluded that the photo “did demonstrate that the monster’s ‘back’ and ‘head’ are connected (not clearly visible to the eye in the original print).” However, the enhancement “could not resolve the facial features because the head was heavily shadowed.”9

* * *

Enter the staff of Skeptical Inquirer, published since 1976 by a group pledged to “promote scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims,” presently known as the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Two “research fellows” of the CSI—SI columnist Joe Nickell and managing editor Benjamin Radford—spent a total of eight days at Lake Champlain in August 2002, during which they reportedly “examined all aspects of the Champ legend, from its alleged inception, through the impact of a famous 1977 photograph of the creature, and beyond,” modestly declaring their effort “the most wide-ranging, hands-on investigation of Champ ever conducted with an intent to solve, rather than promote, the mystery.”10

On 22 August alone, according to Nickell, they interviewed a New York skeptic and his cryptozoologist brother, then “began to explore Lake Champlain from its southernmost tip near Whitehall to its northern end in Québec.” Subsequent days included lakeside vigils, observation of a sign listing Champ sightings, and a visit to a local bar, where one self-proclaimed witness declared all but himself to be drunkards. By the time the intrepid explorers departed, their disbelief in Champ was (not surprisingly) confirmed and carved in stone.11

Even so, another year passed before Nickell and Radford published their findings, in two parts, for SI’s July/August issue of 2003. Nickell dealt with Champ’s “legend,” citing inconsistencies in media reports and eyewitness descriptions, describing the phenomenon of “expectant attention” that prompts sightings of monsters where none exist, and blaming the “bandwagon effect” for proliferation of sightings in specific years. The net result: “Not only is there not a single piece of convincing evidence for Champ’s existence, but there are many reasons against it, one of which is that a single monster can neither live for centuries nor reproduce itself.”12

Claims, we should note, that have never been advanced by any serious researcher. As alert as he is to misuse of propaganda techniques by others, Nickell nonetheless seems willing to use the duplicitous “straw man” approach (http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Straw_man).

Radford was left to debunk the Mansi photo. He began by interviewing Sandra herself on 24 August 2002, but directly quotes only 57 words from her statement in a 3,433-word article. Despite selective editing, Mansi did not appear to contradict her original statements from 1981, which left Radford to raise “The Hoaxing Question.”13

First, Radford notes that “the photo has virtually no objects of known scale (boat, human, etc.) by which to judge the creature’s size or the distance,” a fact which—while accurate—assumes significance only if the photo was hoaxed.14 By definition, photographs of unexpected incidents cannot be staged for the subsequent convenience of armchair analysts, by including mundane objects missing from the scene as events unfold.

Next, Radford declares, “The fact that the Mansis, allegedly afraid of ridicule, waited four years to release the photo was also seen [by Radford] as suspicious. All we are left with is a fantastic story whose only supporting proof is a compelling but ambiguous photograph of something in the water.”15 The same result would exist, of course, if the Mansis had broadcast their story and photo in July 1977. The hypocrisy of this argument only becomes apparent when—as revealed in subsequent installments of this series—we find skeptics eager to accept wholly unsubstantiated “hoax confessions” aired for the first time 40 to 60 years after the fact.

Following that lead-in, Radford leaves the Mansis to attack Richard D. Smith, head of New Jersey-based Wind & Whalebone Media Productions, who wrote of Mansi’s photo in 1983: “As a photographer and filmmaker, I can speak with some authority as to what it would take to fake a picture of this sort. Assuming the remote possibility that the Mansi photo is a fraud, it would require fabrication of an excellent, full-sized model (highly expensive in terms of expertise and materials) which would have to be smuggled out to Champlain or another lake, there assembled or inflated, and successfully maneuvered around out in the water (most difficult, especially with a slight wind blowing), the whole thing accomplished without being seen or the slightest leak in security (unlikely).”16

Radford—who, according to his SI profile, has produced no films at all 17—deems professional filmmaker Smith’s opinion “nearly comical in its strained assumptions,” particularly with regard to a life-sized model of Champ being used by the Mansis, or by someone attempting to dupe them. What explanation, then, remains? Radford beneficently declares himself “willing to grant that [Mansi] is probably a sincere eyewitness reporting essentially what she saw.”18

But what did she see?

Radford’s first suggestion is the sandbar suggested by Dr. Frieden in 1981 and confidently dismissed by Dr. LeBlond a year later. Unable to resolve that contradiction, he states categorically (but without proof, beyond his personal assertion) that LeBlond was “clearly wrong” in plotting the probable location of Mansi’s sighting on a map of Lake Champlain. That said, he drops the sandbar argument and veers off in a new direction for “The Radford Analysis.”19

Ignoring the report from Dr. Frieden, quoted in the ISC Newsletter 21 years earlier, Radford notes “an odd thing” about Mansi’s photo. Specifically, “It is not apparent at first glance, but the ‘head’ and ‘hump’ are not clearly connected.” Without the benefit of Dr. Frieden’s wisdom and equipment, Radford speculates that Mansi’s creature may be two separate objects coincidentally juxtaposed, the apparent head and neck “perhaps a gnarled tree root branching away at an angle.”20

After conducting various experiments to prove his point—allegedly measuring Champ in Mansi’s original photo, wading out from shore with a “mock Champ,” etc.—Radford concluded that “for those claiming that the Mansi object is huge, the numbers don’t add up.” In his view, the presumed neck is barely three feet high, while the whole object stretches seven feet from end to end. Again, no computations are provided to contest Dr. LeBlond’s work from the Beaufort scale. The net result: “If the main eyewitness is to be believed [sic], this ‘extremely good evidence’ for Champ (and, by extension, other lake monsters) is even weaker than previously suspected.”21

* * *

Radford tried for another bite at the apple nine months later, with a new article and hypothesis in the April 2004 issue of Fortean Times. Moving steadily away from his prior assessment of Sandra Mansi as “a sincere eyewitness reporting essentially what she saw,” Radford laments that “remarkably little progress has been made in identifying [the photo’s] subject” since his last attempt. Now, he implies conspiracy.22

“Whether by accident or design,” Radford writes, “virtually all of the information needed to determine the photograph’s authenticity is missing, lost or unavailable. For example, Mansi cannot provide the negative, which might show evidence of tampering, neither can she provide other photographs from the roll (which might show other angles of the same object, or perhaps ‘test’ photos of a known object from an odd position). Mansi is unable to locate the site of the photo, which would help to determine a number of things, including the size of the object, and the photo itself shows virtually no objects of known scale by which to judge the creature’s size or distance.”23

Tackling “the most fundamental question”—whether Champ is alive or a posed, inanimate object—Radford judges the angle of head and neck “very unnatural,” declaring that “[i]t is hard to conceive of a large, aquatic animal whose morphology would allow for such a tortuous positioning.” Mansi’s 1981 description of a creature seemingly insensible to noise and movement on the shore further convinces Radford that “the object could not hear because it was inanimate.” Setting up his pitch, he tells us: “Finally, we have Sandra Mansi’s description of the object’s texture. In her words, the object was wet and glistening and its texture was ‘like bark, like crevice-ey...’ Perhaps, then, it was bark.”24

Perhaps ... except that Radford’s article cites no source for Mansi’s comment—which, as we have seen, flatly contradicts her longstanding description of Champ’s skin as having a “texture like that of an eel...slimy and shiny.” Radford’s previous piece for Skeptical Inquirer includes no mention of “crevice-ey” skin, nor does any other source retrievable by press time for this article. If Mansi provided this contradictory description in her 2002 interview with Radford, why not cite it?

Whatever its provenance, the “crevice-ey” quote banishes Radford’s suspicion of conspiracy, reinstating Sandra Mansi as “an honest person” in his estimation. Concluding that the object in her photo “had none of the characteristics of a living animal,” Radford drops his original two-piece Champ and offers a drifting log as “The Best Candidate.” Not just any log, of course, but one resembling a plesiosaur. Radford photographed such a piece of driftwood at Lake Champlain (http://www.forteantimes.com/front_website/gallery.php?id=441), and while it clearly does resemble a monster of some kind, it has nothing whatever in common with Mansi’s subject. To bridge that yawning gap, Radford resorts to pen and paper, sketching an imaginary “monster” log with all the necessary bits and posing it in sundry attitudes to seal the deal(http://www.forteantimes.com/front_website/gallery.php?id=439). Even then, he concedes, “I cannot conclusively prove the object is a tree; fortunately, I don’t have to.”25

No, indeed. Those who question his solution are required (by Radford) to prove the nonexistence of a most convenient log that Radford himself never found, at Lake Champlain or anywhere else.

* * *

In 2006, Radford and Nickell recycled their Champ articles more or less verbatim in a book, Lake Monster Mysteries, published by the University Press of Kentucky. Their introduction proclaims the book “unique in several respects,” but cites only one, saying: “Many books on this topic are not so much written as compiled, consisting essentially of collections of entertaining stories and legends written to entice and amuse. Little if any attempt is made to actually investigate the sightings or even treat the subject as a mystery to be solved.” [Emphasis in the original.] And again, “Rather than simply cataloging the sightings, we have chosen a different path: in-depth, hands-on investigations.”26

That said, readers may be surprised to find that, while Radford and Nickell treat 20 alleged “monster” lakes in varying detail, they only describe personal visits to five, with no substantive details provided for three of those “expeditions.” Indeed, by actual page-count, treatment of Champ accounts for 30 percent of their text overall. Information on most of the others is simply compiled from pre-existing sources, with no apparent “hands-on” work in evidence.27

As for entertainment, it is difficult to top the authors’ claim that “such investigations might be dangerous,” prompting them to review their insurance policies “for the ‘psychological aftershocks’ we might endure if we were fortunate enough to come face-to-face with one of these creatures.” The “threat” from nonexistent monsters, including two notorious hoaxes thoroughly debunked in 1855 and 1904 respectively, goes unexplained.28

Nickell’s portion of the book’s Champ chapter is simply his 2003 SI article, treated to a cosmetic makeover. Selective phrases are revised—“friend and fellow skeptic Robert Bartholomew” becomes “friend and fellow researcher Robert Bartholomew,” etc.—but SI subscribers may feel that they’ve wasted $26.95 on a retread.29 Radford is more imaginative, borrowing text from his Fortean Times article in addition to the older SI piece, repeating Mansi’s alleged description of bark-like skin (now spelled “crevice-y”), still without a citation.30

In addition to reprinting photos from his other articles, Radford trumps his FT drawings with photos of an identical monster log sculpted from clay, in miniature. Dubbing it an “animated sequence,” he presents four snapshots of the imaginary log in poses meant to mimic Mansi’s Champ, perched atop a transparent blade of some kind to hold the model in midair. Curiously, two of the four resultant photos bear no resemblance to Mansi’s subject, and animation of the sequence would present a figure flopping and rolling in a manner totally unlike Mansi’s description of Champ as she saw it.31

Despite repeated descriptions of Sandra Mansi as “an honest person” and “a sincere eyewitness,” Radford still regards her as both mistaken and brainwashed by overzealous cryptozoologists. To prove the latter point, Radford declares his 2002 interview with Mansi “the basis of comparison” for all other statements she’s made, either before or since that date. According to Radford, the Mansis initially thought that the object they’d seen was “probably a fish.” They “totally dismissed” any notion of Champ until the photo was developed, whereupon they “considered the possibility” but remained apathetic. Only after three years of exposure to pesky researchers, was Mansi converted into a Champ believer. Thus, Radford explains, “cryptozoologists created a monster.”32

Radford assures us that he does not “flatly discount the idea of large, unknown creatures in Lake Champlain,” but that claim—and his protestations of Sandra Mansi’s sincerity—ring hollow as he beats the drum for a potential hoax. Disclaimers of a fraud, he says, are “comical,” “strained,” and “far-fetched.” The indicators of a hoax, in Radford’s view, are numerous: a single, high-quality photo taken by chance; Mansi’s disposal of the negative; her inability to pinpoint the encounter site; the four-year delay in publication. All, he tells us, are suggestive of the very hoax which Radford himself discounts.33

* * *

Let us be clear: if the Mansi photo is a hoax, Sandra Mansi herself must be responsible. With that in mind, and assuming a hoax, what might be its motive?

Profit springs to mind ... but whose? A genuine lake monster photo might be worth millions, yet Ben Radford concedes that Mansi has rejected various lucrative offers for rights to her photo.34 Copies seen in print normally bear a copyright notice in Mansi’s name, or shared jointly with the Gamma Liaison news photo agency, but contacts for its purchase are strangely elusive. Two years of effort, during preparation of my own Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology, proved fruitless. Today, Gamma Liaison’s website (http://www.liaisonintl.com/) is inaccessible, while that of its parent company—Getty Images (http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/Getty-Images-Inc-Company-History.html)—proves equally frustrating. Searches on the Getty site return no hits for Sandra Mansi or Champ, nor does Mansi’s photo appear anywhere among the 1,639 images returned by a search for “monsters.” Likewise, no trace of Mansi’s photo may be found in Britain’s Fortean Picture Library (http://www.forteanpix.co.uk/subind.html).

What else remains, as motive for a hoax, once profit is removed? Reality TV has taught us that some people will do anything to claim a tawdry moment in the spotlight, but Sandra Mansi’s personal behavior does not seem to fit that mold. Nothing reveals her as an inveterate practical joker. There is no hint of malice in her actions—and even if there was, its target would remain obscure.

Floating log or monster? Hoax, sincere mistake, or accurate report of an encounter with a real-life cryptid? At 33 years and counting, we shall likely never know. But if skeptics are correct in saying that the Mansi photo fails to prove Champ’s case, so sketches and models of hypothetical logs fall far short of proving the creature a myth. The contest is a draw.

The mystery remains.


1 “Champ, the Lake Champlain ‘Monster,’” Paranormal Encyclopedia, http://www.paranormal-encyclopedia.com/c/champ.
2 Gary Mangiacopra and Dwight Smith, Does Champ Exist? (Landisville, PA: Coachwhip Publications, 2007), pp. 172-210; Joseph Zarzynski, Champ: Beyond the Legend (Chesterfield, Derbyshire: Bannister Publications, 1984), p. 83.
3 Zarzynski, pp. 62-3.
4 Mangiacopra and Smith, p. 58.
5 Zarzynski, p. 63.
6 Ibid., pp. 140-1.
7 Ibid., pp. 141-2.
8 Paul LeBlond, “An Estimate of the Dimensions of the Lake Champlain Monster from the Length of Adjacent Wind Waves in the Mansi Photograph.” Cryptozoology 1(Winter 1982): 54-60.
9 Anonymous. “Lake Champlain monster draws worldwide attention.” ISC Newsletter 1 (Summer 1982): 1-4.
10 Joe Nickell, “Legend of the Lake Champlain Monster,” Skeptical Inquirer 27 (July/August 2003), http://www.csicop.org/si/show/legend_of_the_lake_champlain_monster.
11 Ibid.
12 Ibid.
13 Ben Radford, “The Measure of a Monster: Investigating the Champ Photo,” ,” Skeptical Inquirer 27 (July/August 2003), http://www.csicop.org/si/show/measure_of_a_monster_investigating_the_champ_photo.
14 Ibid.
15 Ibid.
16 Zarzynski, p. 69.
17 “Ben Radford,” CSI, http://www.csicop.org/author/benradford.
18 Radford, “The Measure of a Monster.”
19 Ibid.
20 Ibid.
21 Ibid.
22 Benjamin Radford, “Lake Champlain Monster,” Fortean Times (April 2004), http://www.forteantimes.com/features/articles/157/lake_champlain_monster.html.
23 Ibid.
24 Ibid.
25 Ibid.
26 Benjamin Radford and Joe Nickell, Lake Monster Mysteries (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2006), pp. 7-8.
27 Ibid., pp. 11-147.
28 Ibid., pp. 9, 79-88, 101-9.
29 Ibid., pp. 28-43; Joe Nickell, “Legend of the Lake Champlain Monster.”
30 Radford and Nickell, pp. 43-59; Radford, “The Measure of a Monster”; Radford, “Lake Champlain Monster.”
31 Radford and Nickell, pp. 165-7.
32 Ibid., 153-5, 157.
33 Ibid., pp. 45-7.
34 Ibid., p. 46.


L-R Mandy, Isobel, Sue
Beth Tyler-King is profoundly deaf, but has been described as “a lifeline for all creatures great and small”. She created Hartland Wildlife Rescue which she runs single-handedly, funding it by selling things at car boot sales to help raise the money to feed and care for the animals that come into her care.

Now she has help. On Monday 14 June, Mandy Found and two colleagues, opened a charity shop in Cooper St., Bideford on behalf of Hartland Wildlife Rescue. Beth said: “Understandably, I cannot thank Mandy enough for taking it upon herself to help my little critters here! It is an absolute Godsend for me. Mandy has worked so hard for weeks getting it all off the ground and a friend of mine, John Dunn, is painting the sign that will go above the shop. The Storehouse Project run by Tina and Joe Buckingham of Pitt Street have donated rails and shelving”.

It is, we believe, admirable that people like Beth Tyler-King and Mandy Found carry out projects like this at grassroots level, without becoming indebted to larger, national and often more bureaucratic organisations.

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday's New Today


On this day in 1944 Ray Davies was born.
And now, the news:

Car Thieves Steal Jonas The Tiger And Two Camels
Health and safety concerns disconnect us from nature
Crabs invade Britain
28 cats rescued from smelly Mo. hotel room
Alligator caught with bare hands by reptile wrangler
Patriotic parrot cheers for England team (Video)
Rat that chewed wire blamed for $1 million blaze

Oh well, ‘rats’ life.

OLL LEWIS: Tri-ing To Save A Species

Triops cancriformis are an endangered species of triops found in only two locations in the UK. They are also, according to wikipedia, the oldest still extant species on the planet with fossil evidence for the species dating back to the Upper Triassic. Now, I’m not sure that that makes them the oldest species as claimed, hopefully if Darren or another palaeontologist is reading this post they can tell me via the comments just how true that statement may be (I have a suspicion that there are older species than that I learnt about in half remembered palaeontology lectures) but they are definitely a living fossil.

Triops live in seasonal pools and lay their eggs in the substrate which then lie dormant while the pool has dried up before hatching when the pool refills in a few months. Triops eggs can survive many years in this dormant state and this has helped them to become popular ‘educational’ pets similar to the more famous, but distinctly less impressive, ‘Sea Monkey’ or brine shrimp.

Cancriformis are endangered in the UK and as they are only found in the wild in two locations, one in Scotland and one in the New Forest, I am looking into the possibility of introducing individuals of the species into the wild locally. I have had great success in captive breeding of some eggs from laboratory specimens already and with a few more generations it may be possible to establish a viable population locally.

The photographs, by the way, are by Corinna.