Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Enter: The Plesi-O-Turtle

   In May of 2012 I was afforded the opportunity to view in it's entirety, the original 2005 "ABC news" series of clips shot on Lake Champlain by Peter Bodette, which supposedly contained images of the famous beast.
    After the footage was originally shot, ABC news was told they were free to use the entire video in a feature news presentation. For unknown reasons, producers chose instead to broadcast just a fraction of the total footage that was shot that day. Several deleted sequences, when freeze framed and enhanced, revealed what seemed to be an enormous, flippered Snake Necked Turtle with the tell tale carapace (shell) being noticeably visible. I was surprised to believe that a Plesiosaur look alike turtle was the culprit, not having heard much speculation in the past that a Chelonian could be seriously considered for the role of the famous "Monster." Later, when I did some basic research on them I was again surprised to find that turtles have many positive attributes for lake monster nomination that have not been discussed.

   For Lake Monster fans, many automatically think of a Plesiosaur when we hear and read the details of some of the hundreds of sightings on record and presently occurring around the world. Reports come in that mention long necks, humped back with flippers and swimming freely like what we have publicly envisioned Plesiosaurs to be since even before Charles Knight's depictions more than 100 years ago.
   Some of the 250 listed Champ sightings from Joe Zarznyski's "Beyond the Legend" evoke classic iconic imagery with descriptions like "it looked like the (1960's) Sinclair dinosaur" (a Brontosaurus) and "that swimming dinosaur with the long neck."
(Plesiosaurs are not actually dinosaurs, but ancient reptiles from the Super-Order Sauropterygia).
   Like all our favorite Cryptids in general, many zoologists find fault with the Plesiosaur is "it" theory, but surprisingly there is an order of animal, that if it existed in the form of an unknown species, could also be a candidate for the long hidden identity of the elusive monsters, for reasons including that they're an order of animal well known to still exist today and are widely diversified, to the degree of some actually resembling the beloved Plesi in basic shape and perhaps even in size.
   The order is Testudines, better known as Turtles, and potential candidates for the lake monster ID are both the family Chelidae of the sub-order Pleuodira, which include the often mentioned "World's strangest animal," the Mata Mata turtle, along with the exotic Snake Neck and Side Neck Turtles of Gondwana. The other valid turtle candidates could be the more geographically dispersed Trionychids, or soft shell turtles.

   When you consider these two  possibilities, and take into account what we already know about them, rather / or in addition to what a 60 million year displaced Sauropterygia might be able to do, then right from the get go, turtles should be a top contender as lake monsters.
   Did Plesiosaurs stay at the surface or did they stay down below where we wouldn't see them ?
Some Paleontologists paint them to be warm shallow sea loving, close to the surface kind of creatures - not exactly covert sounding, and if they were still around, might be expected to be seen more often than they are, especially on crowded Summer Champlain.
                    (Champ and Nessie sightings are at an all time low). 
"On the Rocks of Valcour Island"

   But we already know that some turtles prefer to sit on the bottom of fresh water ponds, rivers and lakes, sometimes burying themselves completely .... and occasionally extend their necks - which in the case of both Chelidae and Trionychids can be as long or longer than their shells, getting fresh air using just the tip of their nostrils to break the water surface- thus always ensuring maximum stealth mode.
   Could the Plesiosaurs stand the cold water associated with glacial lakes ? There is no real evidence that says they couldn't and some recent claims are that they could perhaps withstand the constant numbing conditions at Loch Ness? Turtles are already well known for their cold tolerating powers, with certain aquatic species even mating in water as chilly as 42 degree Loch Ness kind of cold.
   Champlain's Softshell turtle restoration champion, Wildlife biologist Steve Parren, told me that he has been ice skating on Winter Champlain and seen brumating turtles swimming UNDER the ice. Few have ever imagined that a cold blooded reptile could be active tolerating such frigid conditions. ___________________________________________________________________________

     The biggest hurtle for ancient reptile fans is that no Dinosaur, Archosaur, Sauropterygia or any individual species of deemed extinct Reptile has ever been known to survive to the present day.
    Even the symbol of extinction exception, the lobe finned Coelocanth, is declared
by contemporary DNA experts as to not be the same fish as what is said to be it's present day "unchanged over time" form. Many modern Scientists are not cotten to the Canth's "living fossil" moniker, and the idea that even they represent an exception to general extinction theories.

Jay's first Coelacanth
   Turtles, on the other hand have been around for upwards a quarter BILLION years, long before the Dinosaurs and probably the Archosaurs as well. To this day they have never gone extinct as an order. Who knows what could have happened in that time ?

POGANOCHELYS lived 200+ million years ago
    As far as finding all of the fossilized permutations from 245 million years of known Chelonian existence, the largest recovered lake turtle so far, the mini-van sized Stupendemys Geographicus, lived very recently, during the Pleistocene era (4-10 million years  ago), and only 1 gigantic crushed shell with fragments and a Hulk- Buster humerus bone have ever been recovered.


   Most Lake Monster fans are optimistic about the possibility of ancient Reptiles surviving
to the present day. One bugaboo is that most every card  carrying Paleontologist is not supportive of that kind of hopefulness.
Since what some experts think they know about Plesiosaurs is not positive for lake monster
nomination, perhaps we should re-consider what turtles can do and be, and apply it to the question.
                                Could some Lake Monsters be turtles ?
   Here's what we already know about what the order of Testudines CAN do
                  (along with the oddball divergent sub-order Pleurodira)
Turtles CAN have very long necks, like what is descibed on some Lake Monster sightings.
            (Chelidae and Trionychids)
Turtles can retract their necks making it appear to have a short neck as described on
            some eyewitness reports on those same lakes
            (An inconsistency that skeptics have pointed out).
Turtles can be omnivorous - a definite plus for survivability.
Turtles can thrive in cold water. With at least 5 remaining species of water loving turtles
            already indigenous to Lake Champlain, it's certainly not "bad science"
            to think reptiles could live there.
Turts can grow to large sizes - some captured and released modern Leatherbacks being over a
            ton in weight. The dead record being 2076 lbs. found on the shore of Wales.                     
Turtles, not magician David Blaine, are the vertebrate breath holding champions of the world.
            Some lake turts can hold their breath for more than a day without surfacing.

Turtles can also have supplemental biological scuba breathing apparatus. One species discovered by the late Steve Irwin he nicknamed the "bum-breather" because of a gill system in
 it's cloaca (anus) that takes oxygen out of the water and sends it to the bloodstream.

Turtles can attain swimming speeds that match that of an Olympic sprinter.
            (Dermochelys 22 mph - Jamaica's Usian Bolt 23 mph)

Turtles can dive to a depth of over 1/2 a mile. That's the depth of 4 Loch Ness stacked on top of
              each other. (Leatherback)
Turtles have the widest distribution range of any animal presently known to be
              alive except for some whales (Dermo again)
Turtles can choose their offspring's sex - insuring their maximum future reproduction.
Turtles can hibernate (or brumate) through-out intense winter conditions (like this last one),
              sometimes for close to half the year in the Northern extremities (Canada) where lake turtles
              are still found.
   Plus, the Australian Snake Neck Turtle can actually squirt the infamous Reptile stink juice
in great abundance earning it the down-under nickname "Stinkpot." There's a smaller turtle in Champlain, the Musk Turtle (S.Odorotus) that is also known for ruining picnics.
Several possible Champ encounters on land, including Dennis Hall's "Orville's Marsh" sighting and the one Katy Elizabeth of Champ Search recently had, mention the pungent and unforgettable reptilian smell being very noticeable. Countless other Sea Serpent and Lake Monster reports include descriptions of foul smell accompanying the sighting.

   OK, now here's what may be the secret "Champ is a Whale" knockout punch. In 2005, an Australian researcher named  Dr. Jacqueline Giles became the first person to ever record and confirm that the Australian Snake Necked Turtle (Oblonga) is able to use echo location and/or bioacoustic communications in a fashion that was never previously attributed to any aquatic animal other than Whales and Dolphins.

Later when the American Society of Acoustics checked the findings, they confirmed that these Snake Necked Turtles produce bioacoustics so advanced, that it suggested to the scientists complex social behavior, something never remotely attributed to "dumb" turtles before.
   The bioacoustics they produced actually resembled Cetaceans, attaining high frequencies, and the conclusion of the report stressed the importance of the findings and the need for more research.
   With these unpublicized discoveries, the previous notion that aquatically, "only Whales echolocate" can be put to the wayside. The Oblonga  (Aussie Snakeneck Turtles) were in an aquatic envirnoment when they were producing bioacoustics. What if they were 15 feet long and living in a huge fresh water lake ? Could we not assume that they too might be able to do the same thing, and much louder to boot ? It seems almost too coincidental that the second animal ever confirmed to produce aquatic bioacoustics just happens to look the most like what Champ has been described to look like.

   So are the famous Fauna Communication recordings, with it's now numerous documented contacts
really turtle talk and NOT whales ?
Lance B. Lennard with Hydrophone
Whale expert Dr. Lance Barrett Lennard, a research Scientist at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Center does not believe that the evidence he has heard and examined from Liz Von Muggenthaler's FAUNA communications ARE of a marine mammal, but are something else instead. Something unknown to him.      Could it be a GIANT Snake Neck Turtle ?
   Plesiosaurs were amazing when they were alive but it would be unprecedented if they have somehow miraculously survived the cretaceous-tertiary event. But if there is also an unidentified species from a non-extinct order of animal that may look like them, be large like them, swim like them, and some already live in cold lakes, shouldn't they be considered as prospects too ?
   Hopefully this Snake Neck Turtle bioacoustics data will be given more focus and  people who have
claimed there's no present day evidence for large unknown creatures in the lakes and waterways of
the world might re-consider, without breaking the extinction rule, that some Lake Monsters, rather than NOT exist, just could be a large unclassified species of the mighty, misunderstood and ever present Turtle.
Champ - Beyond the Legend - Joe Zarznyski
Why coelacanths are not ‘living fossils’ A review of molecular and morphological data
                    - Didier Casane and Patrick Laurenti
Lake Monster Mysteries - Joe Nickell - Ben Radford
Water Horse of Lake Champlain - Katy Elizabeth
The Ultimate Survivors - Justin Gerlach
Biology of Turtles - various contributors
The Handbook of Turtles - A. Carr
Vancouver Aquarium Cetacean Research Program - Dr Lance Barrett Lennard
The Monster Project. Stranger than Nature - Nat Geo
Voyage of the Turtle/Last of the Dinosaurs- Carl Safina
The underwater acoustic repertoire of the long-necked, freshwater turtle Chelodina oblonga
- Dr Jacqueline Giles http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/39/2/02Whole.pdf
American Society of Acoustics - The Underwater repertoire of the long necked
                                                                                                 freshwater turtle - report on
Turtles - An Extraordinary Natural History 245 Million Years in the Making - Carl J. Franklin
2014 Guinness World Record Book
Unedited Bodette Champ series of clips - c/o  Pete Bodette
Fauna Communications Champ findings
Stupendemys Geographicus: The World's largest Turtle - Roger C. Wood
Reptile Magazine
The Truth Behind the Loch ness Monster - Darren Naish - Nat Geo
           thanks to John Whitesel, Jay Cooney, Scott Mardis, Katy Elizabeth,
                                Dr. Jacqueline Giles, Steve Parren,    



  1. I TOTALLY CONCUR WITH YOUR OBSERVATIONS. There is NO reason to ASSUME lake monsters are some form of dinosaur that has survived extinction. Good luck with your research!

    1. Thanks Mr. Scott - Glad you enjoyed the article. I know what I saw on that video and hope that in the future, some of the many folks that are more knowledgeable and ambitious than me in these matters are able to confirm and expand on it.

  2. Excellent article! You make a good case for the turtle hypothesis and I hope to see more from you on this. However, I do wish to point out that recent studies by recent studies by French geochemists and paleontologists suggest that plesiosaurs would have had a warm-blooded physiology. Analyses of skeletal remains of some Norwegian plesiosaurs also suggests a leatherback turtle-like physiology and the presence of oily fat deposits. Also, the dorsally located nostrils of plesiosaurs could be interpreted as allowing them to discreetly breath by simply raising their nostrils above the surface. In fact, fossils suggest that they were mainly benthic feeders and thus such a behavior could be useful in limiting the amount of time that they would have to spend at the surface. In regard to the lack of a recent fossil record for plesiosaurs, it is worth noting that there are several cases of "reworked" plesiosaur fossils appearing in Post-Cretaceous deposits. These "reworked" fossils span from the Paleocene to Pleistocene, so maybe they aren't all reworked after all. Thus, I feel that the plesiosaur hypothesis does still have some merit. But there is an excellent case for the turtle hypothesis as well. Either way, I think that a reptile with a leatherback-like physiology best accounts for the data at hand regarding these unknown aquatic animals.

  3. Thanks for the updates Jay - no Plesi bashing intended. You'll notice I used the word "if" and "perhaps" a lot and refer to paleontologists as the ones providing bugaboo. I agreed that there is no reason they couldn't survive cold too. The general idea here was to portray turtles with a "me too" possibility. The fact that Plesiosaurs were found on so many continents shows that they were just as able to get around as Dermochelys in their day. I hope that somehow they are still with us. It's just that it is unprecedented at this time that any single example has survived and even some younger, more radical paleos like Mr. Naish have stated that if something is in these lakes it must be an unknown species of a contemporary order. Such is the overwhelming handicap of being declared extinct by professionals. In the meantime I'll be catching up with Bizarre and Frontiers of Biology archives, both comprehensive and cutting edge in those kinds of discussions.

    1. oops - Bizarre Zoology and Frontiers of Zoology I meant.

  4. Thanks for all the help Kemosabe. You are a walking book of knowledge !