I am fortunate to live very near a lake with its own lake monster. With the exception of the well-debunked Loch Ness Monster, "Champ" or the Lake Champlain Monster in Vermont is probably the most well known "cryptid" of its kind. Of course, I don't believe there actually is a lake monster, with the exception of this one.

Last week, a gentleman by the name of Eric Olsen posted a video to YouTube which shows a shape moving in the early-morning waters of Lake Champlain just off of Oak Ledge Park in Burlington. It's interesting footage, and well worth a look.

As with any unusual video of something moving in the water, people were quick to shout "There's Champ!" But noted-skeptic Ben Radford, co-author of the book Lake Monster Mysteries is an expert on Champ, and posted his analysis at livescience.com.

From Ben's article:

The video holds several clues about the creature's identity. The form resembles the back and head of a swimming deer, and moves toward the near shore past what appears to be a buoy, which might suggest shallow water.

When analyzing videos such as this, what we don't see is often just as important as what we do see. In this case the video abruptly ends as the animal nears shore.

It seems very odd that the last part of the sequence is missing. Surely if the cameraman was intrigued enough by the sight to spend two minutes recording it he didn't suddenly lose interest, stop recording, and turn away. The eyewitness was supposedly worried about running out of memory on his cell phone. That may be true, or perhaps he chose to edit out the last seconds of the sequence, when we could all see if it was indeed a deer climbing ashore. Though I doubt a hoax, there are many unanswered questions about the sighting.

The creator of the film does not claim it's a monster; he just says its something strange. He's made the video private and disabled comments, but finally made the video public again. There's something about all this that bothers him. Like Ben, I also don't think it's a hoax, but I think he could see more than the video shows, and my guess is the attention has him spooked a bit.

Regardless, we now have video of something interesting. First off, Ben's correct: deer and moose do swim, moose especially. It is not a rare occurrence. To test the deer theory, I searched on YouTube for videos of swimming ungulates to compare them.

The first video clearly shows a deer swimming in the water. This tells us that deer do swim, they swim long distances, and gives us a general idea of what they look like. The head is significantly above water, the back is below, and this shape doesn't change much. Despite these differences, it does resemble at least portions of the Olsen video.

The second one, shot from a much longer distance, looks remarkably like the Olsen footage. However, how do we explain the portions where the object has much more mass breaking the surface, an the head shape is different?

I have a simple theory about this: the animal is walking. Olsen claims the water is 8 feet at times in that part of the lake. A fully grown moose can be as much as 7 feet high at the shoulder. This gives ample room for a neck and shoulders to be above water. Note also that moose have very thick necks, unlike their white-tailed deer cousin.

My guess/interpretation is that the video is of a female moose, that is tired, and swimming in shallow enough water that her feet sometimes touch bottom. When this happens, her back rises above the water. The point in the video where she is still, and the suddenly sinks deepers is a ledge of some sort on the lake bottom, and her delay is her trying to find footing.

There you have, in my opinion (and Ben's obviously) a likely explanation for what was observed.

In any other lake, there probably wouldn't be a question at all. But you see... this is Lake Champlain... home to a monster! So, of course people assume "monster" for anything even slightly out of the ordinary. As I (and others) have said before "believing is seeing." Once you have a pattern or idea in your mind, you seek to confirm it, and any unexplained thing can fit the bill.

The thing is, we're smart enough to know this about ourselves. Using critical thinking, we can overcome the urge to cry "monster" and instead dispassionately examine a video such as this and come up with a likely explanation. It's a shame that more people don't want to do that.

To illustrate this point, check out this video posted on June 5th, 2009 from Addison, VT which is about 30 miles south of the Olsen video. It surprises me that any rural Vermonter would suspect that this "creature" was Champ. In fact, here is a nice, clear, daylight and closeup view of what I strongly suspect is the same creature. It's true that this species is very primitive and dates back a very long time, but monster it is not.

And another example, here's an article from the Press Republican out of Plattsburg, NY which is on the western bank of the lake. It seems "Champ" appeared again on June 5, just a few days after the Olsen video. Why do such sightings often come in groups? Because the pattern of "monster" was reinforced in the public's mind by the Olsen video. That's my explanation, anyway.

From the article:

"It didn't move like a snake," said Roberts, owner of Adirondack Birch Worx furniture shop in Plattsburgh. "It was not like a porpoise or dolphin, either. It moved straight and fast, with its bumps up high and then down lower in the water.

"I've never seen anything like it before," he added, noting that he grew up on Cumberland Head and has seen 20-foot lake sturgeon close up before.

The creature's skin was "whale-like," he said, and had a shiny greenish black tint to it.

It's getting near sundown (which coincides perfectly with the sighting), the fish have stopped biting, and something is moving rapidly near the dock. It's not a 20 foot sturgeon, it doesn't move like a snake (why would it?), so it must be a monster... or maybe it could be another explanation that Ben Radford is familiar with.

It's possible that one or both of these sightings are of some unknown creature, space aliens, or ghosts. But why believe any of those when there are reasonable explanations at hand? The answer, I think is simple. If you see a monster, alien, or ghost, you are special. You are one of the "chosen few" who have experienced something amazing. It can be a very powerful feeling, and not one that you're willing to give up. I've experienced this myself, though in the end, curiosity always won out over feeling special. But I'll tell you what.. you can feel special by coming up with a supported and plausible explanation as well. You may not ever learn the definitive truth, so you can't be sure, but you can rest at ease knowing that the next time you see something, you'll be armed with curiosity rather than fear.