What Is Using Bio-Sonar In Lake Champlain?

Who? What?

Meet the Scientist: Lake Champlain—Home To A Mystery Animal?

Bio-acoustician Elizabeth von Muggenthaler will discuss her research that led to the discovery of bio-sonar signals in Lake Champlain. Only dolphins and whales echolocate underwater, as a form of communication and as a food searching technique, and there are none in this Lake. What creature is making this high frequency sound? Free with admission. 1-877-ECHOFUN, www.echovermont.org

Date: July 16, 2009
Time: 11:00 am Eastern Time


ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center
Leahy Center for Lake Champlain
One College Street
Burlington, VT 05401

For More Information…
Please Call, Write, Fax or Email:
phone: 802-864-1848
fax: 802-864-6832

Colleague and Cryptomundo correspondent William Dranginis from Virginia emails me:

This talk is being presented by a good friend and team member bio-acoustician Elizabeth von Muggenthaler. Mike Frizzell and I were up at the Lake over the weekend conducting a site survey with Elizabeth to prepare for future work there. Elizabeth has really discovered something big, even if it was a number of years ago. We will be using the EyeGotcha video system there, only this time it will be underwater!

Elizabeth von Muggenthaler is a bioacoustician from the Fauna Communications Research Institute in North Carolina.

In 1998, Elizabeth von Muggenthaler and a group of colleagues announced that they had found evidence that giraffes use infrasound to communicate. In part, Muggenthaler had taken on the study — done on 11 giraffes at 2 zoos in North and South Carolina — because she had studied the use of infrasound by the Okapi, a relative of the giraffe. It would be natural, she thought, for the giraffe, which shares many behaviors with the Okapi, to also share the use of low sounds.
Rare, old postcard from the International Cryptozoology Museum archives.

In 1992, Muggenthaler documented the use of infrasound by rhinos. She was able to record the haunting whale-song of the Sumatran rhino (seen below, in a trail-cam photo).

rhino cam

The intriguing choice of some of Muggenthaler’s subjects ~ okapis and Sumatran rhinos ~ two animals significant in cryptozoology, and the unknown animals of Lake Champlain, points to an individual performing groundbreaking work on the frontiers of zoology. She is featured in MonsterQuest season 1’s “America’s Loch Ness.”

Muggenthaler is a hard-working, creative, intelligent model for young cryptozoologists-in-training worldwide. She is an inspiration to all who have studied her work.

I look forward to hearing more about her Lake Champlain results.

About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.

Leave a Reply

  1. Ah, I remember that episode. Thinking about it, I do wonder if Champ might actually be a form of beaked whale, possibly one which went through dwarfism when it was trapped in the lake. After all, lake Champlain isn’t exactly lake Baikal in terms of size, so if you ask me for a population of cetaceans to be present in the lake, they would have to be a rarely seen, deep diving, and dwarfed form-and beaked whales are one which we know very little about, and fit both criteria for the known species. The only problem that I see with this idea is that generally, beaked whales avoid going into shallower waters-they prefer living in open water off the edge of the continental shelf.

    However, the family does recommend itself to champhood for a few other reasons. The family is capable of remaining submerged for up to half an hour at a time, meaning that sightings would be infrequent compared to other cetaceans. Many described species are known only from remains which have washed onto shore or beached, and very little at all is known about them due to their habit of feeding at great depth-and several species have been discovered over the past several decades (one pretty recently, if i remember correctly). So, if a species became dwarfed, and followed the habits of the other beaked whales, then it would be pretty difficult to locate (again though, getting it INTO the lake-and onto the continental shelf-is the first challenge). If you ask me, if champ exists it is almost certainly a cetacean of some kind-no other aquatic animal is known to use ultrasound. This brings up an interesting question:have they tried broadcasting the sounds back into the lake? It might cause a response, since cetaceans are known to communicate with each other.

    Either way though, to me this suggests a deep water creature-one which typically looks for food where it’s eyes cannot see adequately, and one which isn’t using scent to hunt, since that would make ultrasound redundant. I’m reminded of that old champ video, to be honest-the one which showed something approaching a boat from below the water. I’ve always wondered just what was shown in the film. If only the water were a little clearer, then we would have been able to make a ID.

  2. Thank you for posting the information concerning Elizabeth’s work at Lake Champlain and other locations, Elizabeth is truly a cutting edge scientist and her past work provides a solid foundation for many future discoveries. Her work at Lake Champlain, the Okapis and Sumatran rhinos is spectacular! Like you stated in your article, “Elizabeth is a hard-working, creative and intelligent model for young cryptozoologists-in-training worldwide.” Elizabeth has and will continue to energize the scientific community with her extremely important discoveries. I’m hoping other scientists will follow her lead and spend more time in the field; that’s where science gets exciting! ~ William M. Dranginis

  3. Why are whales and dolphins the only things Champ could be? Remember, we are talking about something that has been seen by Sir Lawrence himself and I believe he described it with its head and neck out of the water. There is no reason this couldn’t be some dinosaur, after all we have no idea how they hunted and/or communicated.

    Congratulations Elizabeth von Muggenthaler for finding such an important piece of evidence for something to be there.

  4. Has Elizabeth von Muggenthaler published her findings re. lake Champlain in any peer-reviewed scientific journal?

  5. Well, considering that prehistoric frilled shark that surfaced near Japan a year or so ago, the possibility of an unusual cetacean isn’t that off the map.

    Is there any evidence of snakes or eels using echo location? What about cave dwelling reptiles? What about seals? Aren’t the top two guesses for lake cryptids usually extremely large otters or long-necked seals?

    Sadly while the more sciencey-minded part of me wants/needs to know what is making these noises and what people are seeing, the romantic part of me sort of wants it to remain a mystery.

  6. Whales and dolphins aren’t the only thing Champ could be but are certainly among the most likely. It can’t be a dinosaur because dinosaurs weren’t aquatic. Though I’m sure what you meant to say is plesiosaurs, they’re more closely related to snakes and lizards than they are dinosaurs. But I doubt Champ is a reptile simply because I cannot imagine one of that size surviving the brutal New England winters. Seals and otters are certainly an option but they tend to be noisy…and terrestrial so I would assume someone would have found something. That pretty much leaves you with some kind of freshwater cetacean. Freshwater cetaceans are known animals, and it would certainly explain the bio-sonar. Personally I believe if Champ is anything it is likely a fish or fish-like creature. Perhaps a large species of hagfish that lives in the deep muddy bottom feeding on rotting flesh. A bit less romantic I guess but more believable.

  7. I remember the MQ episode where she played the audio. At the time I was wondering why she only got the noise once, and why no one else before or since had recorded anything similar.

    Just makes me wonder is all.

  8. I remember being very impressed by Elizabeth von Muggenthaler in the “Champ” episode on season 1. We need more researchers like in her in the discipline and ALSO in the scientific world, period. Cryptozoology has a new “Star” in its “Constellation.”
    “Bio-Acoustician”—what will they think of next? :)

    Good post. Some need to be reminded that plesiosaurs and other sea-reptiles of prehistoric times were not “dinosaurs.” Same goes for Pterosaurs. So thanks a lot.

    On the other hand, I very much doubt that this is a “hagfish.”
    As far as I know, Hagfish don’t have the elongated necks reported of Champ and Nessie.

    You are ignoring the fact that there is a possibility that if this IS a plesiosaur/dinosaur, it MIGHT have adapted/evolved to deal with its surroundings over millions of years. Hey, you never know!!! So maybe it CAN stand brutally cold winters!!!
    Either that, or it “hibernates/migrates” for the winter!!!
    Through some unknown tunnel in the lake, maybe!!!

    One can’t always ascribe known behavior to creatures/beings/phenomena that stand outside the parameters of our known reality, anyway. :)

  9. Look, there is no good evidence for any dinosaurs (except birds) surviving the KT extinction. It’s understandable that really big things like T. Rex and sauropods wouldn’t survive the aftermath of a really big impact, but there is no good evidence that even the bird-and-mammal-sized lower end of the dinosaur size distribution survived. Lacking that, it’s actually a better guess that some species of bat adapted for aquatic life, bringing its bio-sonar with it, than that dinosaurs made all those adaptations.

    Actually, echolocation has evolved independently in many different animals, so it doesn’t help a lot in determining the identity of Champ, if Champ is anything real. Echolocation has in fact evolved in birds, as well as bats and whales, so let me throw out a wild guess just to cover all the bases: Maybe some of these lake monsters are in fact something like a very rare species of giant heron or giant pelican, and the long neck is the long neck of a water bird. They aren’t often seen because they can fly away. Rarely they are witnessed in flight, and then they are called thunderbirds.

  10. The plesiosaur theory is too far fetched for me though I do realize they may have evolved over millions of years into something better suited to cold freshwater living. The reason I suggested a hagfish was because they’re secretive, a population of those in a lake would be more difficult to find than a population of large air breathing reptiles. Certainly the elongated body moving near the surface could be mistaken for a reptilian neck. But the hagfish was just an example of what it could be, I’m not saying that is the only option. It could be any number of fishes; eel, sturgeon etc. Or maybe even an invertebrate. Whatever it is I’m sure it is less glamorous than a plesiosaur. It’s the same as Lorens theory regarding the Mokele-Mbembe. Locals and eyewitnesses believe they’re seeing a living sauropod but the idea that it may be an Indricotherium or other extinct mammal or even a new species of hippopotamus or rhino is a lot more logical.

  11. I have little expertise on this area at the moment…:) and I am not even sure how the echolocation is produced (you can bet I’m going to look into this during the rest of the summer though), but I am wondering–is it something that you could tell if a creature could produce echolocation from its skeletal structure (I’m going somewhere with this, hang in there), or not?

    My point is, if you can tell such a thing, we could look at extinct critters and see if that was a possibility, or if it was indeed something exclusive to whales and dolphins. My real point being–the dinosaurs filled just about every biological niche on the planet at the top of their game–is it possible/plausible there were dinosaurs with echolocation also–they seemed to have developed about every offensive and defensive trait seen in most animals to date.

    NOW, having said that, I am not ready to go on file as saying we have a plesiosaur swimming in Champlain, NEss, etc. On the other hand, as we have seen, evolution takes on all comers, so we may have something that has evolved and uses echolocation…I don’t buy the whale/dolphin theory because there have been way too many reports of heads and long necks to these things. Unless, again, we are looking at a population of whale like critters that evolved along those lines like a plesiosaur or the like.

    I think people latch onto the plesiosaur motif because they fit the physical description of what people are seeing. This is an age old argument that won’t go away until we obtain proof of what is swimming in these lakes, and I am not convinced it is one thing over another yet.

    BUT, echolocation, being used by some large aquatic creature in the lake, adds a whole new dimension to these creatures and their ability to survive and evade detection by humans (and it would explain a lot for a predator living in a peat laden loch where visibility is down to nil at about ten feet).

  12. Actually, I believe that MQ episode said that she recorded the echolocation sounds not one, but three times…so presumably this is something that, if one were to go back out onto the lake with her equipment, it could be reproduced. Has anyone else tried this yet?

  13. I wouldn’t say that whatever it is would have to be some sort of dolphin or whale.

    As has been mentioned here already, echolocation has evolved independently in a number of different animals. It is really not so unusual for certain helpful adaptations to evolve in varying animals independently when faced with similar selective pressures. If a certain adaptation is useful to a species survival in a given environment, similar traits can evolve in unlike, non-related animals. For instance you see wings on both bats and birds, and fins on both fish and cetaceans. What works works. If whatever is in the lake faced similar environmental pressures as other echolocating animals, then echolocation may have evolved in Champ even if it is nothing like a whale or dolphin.

    The angle of bioacoustics is a very interesting avenue of research. This same sort of technique is being used to track the health and movements of forest elephants in the Congo, which also use subaudible frequencies for communication. It is a novel way to get a fix on these notoriously hard to find animals. When I first heard of that research, I immediately saw its possible usefulness for cryptozoology, so I am pleased that this approach is being employed here for Champ.

    Good stuff.

  14. Unfortunately, that bio-sonar is being heard in Champlain is not neccessarily an indication that there is an unknown animal there. After all, Ms. Muggenthaler discovered that Okapis and Rhinos use infrasound-a fact no one knew before, so it may be that whales and dolphins aren’t the only creatures using echolocation underwater either. Maybe it’s a certain species of fish that no one has bothered to listen to before.

  15. I think echo location is more common than is realised and subconciously used even by humans. There is at least one blind person who can negotiate city streets by this means. It is not a huge journey for life forms to develop this ability in and out of water given a little push from nature in this direction.

    We can only state at this point dolphins and whales, not forgetting porpoises, can use sonar in water, not that nothing else can, even a humble shrimp. It begins to look a little surprising the manatees etc do not have some ability in echo location.

    It is a very interesting phenomenom however and presumably there have been developments and research since 2002(?). I wonder if any comparisons have been made, particularly with Belugas? Sona could be almost as good a tool as DNA and opens up the possibility of communication with the source. I look forward to the unravelling of the mystery!

    Are there fishing bats or birds in the vicinity of Lake Champlain that echolocate into the water, whose signal may have been picked up. Is it a complex signal not from a shrimp or an eel or likewise?

  16. Thing is, the reason marine mammals have this adaptation is because fish have several sensory adaptations to help them hunt in conditions in which it is difficult to see. Fish have, among other things, a lateral line which helps them to sense movement in the water and a functional sense of smell (aquatic mammals do not, to my knowledge, have such a sense). Additionally, some are capable of using an electric field to sense prey. Echolocation is kind of like the ace in the hole for toothed and beaked whales from an evolutionary standpoint: it allows them to hunt in conditions that would otherwise be impossible for them to hunt in, since they lack these adaptations. Or, for that matter, the eyesight of cephlapods in deep water.

    Now, having said all that, I do fully acknowledge that it is not impossible for another marine organism to develop echolocation. But in general, echolocation occurs in organisms that hunt in conditions where it is difficult to hunt due to low visibility. If I had to name a fish that I would consider a suspect for this kind of behavior, it would be a fish which routinely lives in murky water, and is a predator species (plants don’t move anywhere, so you don’t need it for them). A crustacean is highly unlikely given the freshwater environment (crayfish are one of the few kinds around). So if not a marine mammal, I would hinge my bets on a fish. A semi aquatic snake like a water moccasin might also be an intriguing possibility, if we’re going down that route.

  17. The pursuit of cryptids using the scientific method is, without even a close second, the most excitement in science right now.

    It really makes one wonder why, for so many people, the debate is still mired in that tired old do you believe or not?

    It’s not about belief! Ask people like this, who know what they’re talking about.

  18. Ambient Noise

    Just to clarify. Any acoustician is going to test ambient noise (sounds that are native to the area) in the case of atmospheric conditions: trains, airplanes, birds, other terrestrial creatures in the area etc. Underwater it would be fish, eel, turtle etc. recorded in their native habitat. Zoos and aquariums are visited and recordings made independently of the source (the lake). In addition, a literature search is performed and experts in the respective fields of the known animals in a lake are contacted. This eliminates known animals.
    Then, and only then you are sure that echolocation only occurs from a novel species.

  19. Maslo, the thing you may be forgetting is that plesiosaurs were not all giants – some species weren’t really big at all. Also, plesiosaur fossils have been found in areas that were in the Antarctic Circle during the Cretaceous, suggesting that they were able to cope with cold weather.

    Also, looking at pictures of plesiosaur skulls, there may have been room in their skulls for a proportionately-smaller equivalent of the melon found in dolphins – something used in the process of echolocation.

  20. I like the scientific approach, and that goes beyond just using fancy gear and computers. It must also include “understanding” how they work together.

    I would suggest they take the original biosonar recording kit back to the same place on the same boat and leave it there for a few days to find out if they can record the same signals again.

    Back in the Dark Ages at Loch Ness some Americans thought they had recorded mating crustaceans deep in the lake – it turned out their equipment was picking up teleprinter signals from a nearby underwater cable!

  21. Crypto, I realize smaller species of plesiosaurs existed. The smallest about 6′ which by today’s standards in freshwater is still a large animal, especially if it is a reptile living in a temperate environment. But isn’t Champ described as being larger than 6′ anyway? I’m not saying whatever Champ is has to be large but it is generally described as such. As for Antarctic finds of plesiosaurs, that doesn’t really prove anything. They lived in the ocean and could have been migratory just like sea turtles today. I don’t think plesiosaurs are migrating out of lake Champlain every winter.

  22. OK I have now read the article at http://www.7dvt.com/2009making-sound-waves” several times.
    From my reading, it seems Ms Muggethaler was paid by Discovery Channel to go to the lake several years ago, and using unfamiliar equipment in a new location obtained interesting recordings in three different locations and “Each of the recordings presented a unique sound signature, suggesting the presence of three different creatures.”
    Then, based only on this data she asserts “It was unequivocally a freshwater mammal, most likely a carnivore about 15 feet long that swims at speeds up to five knots and has a highly advanced brain. And it’s not a monster.”

    Like Leftover Salmon said, where is the background noise data? Like Red Pill Junkie said, where is the peer reviewed paper?
    And I will say “where are the stampeding zoologists?”

    The more digital equipment they have running in series off boat inverters, the better their chance of making their own biosonar signals, but a land-based station using “commercial” electricity and shielded cables should eliminate some of these problems.

    Good quality hydrophones will still pick up boats, sonars, intermittent water pumps and industrial equipment miles away, and even trucks driving along the roads, so I wish them Good Luck in unraveling the result.

  23. wuffing: I, um, agree.

    Whoa. So Champ’s a mammal, we got it on video, thanks Olsen, and it should be called Mammalreallyus olsenasaurus? We’re done here?

    Whoa. If a photo cannot be considered conclusive proof of an unknown animal, and it almost never is, a sound recording sure can’t. Particularly with some of the funnies of the genre detailed in this very thread.

    I am very glad she’s on the scene. But with pronouncements like that she should be a tad more careful, wot?

  24. Maslo, as I recall, the plesiosaur fossils found in that area indicated that the animals spent long periods of time there – both adults and young plesiosaurs were found. And yes, it is possible that they migrated for the winter, but Antarctica in the summer is still colder than Lake Champlain in the winter.

  25. Present day Antarctica perhaps but during the Cretaceous period Antarctica was a temperate rainforest. I don’t know what fossils you’re referring to but if they date back even further, like to the Jurassic it would have been even warmer.

  26. Yeah, the fossils that were found were from the Cretaceous, so you do have a good point there… Is there any open passage (St. Lawrence River?) between Champlain and the ocean, or are there dams and such between the two bodies of water?

  27. Wuffing and a few others raise some very salient points along the same theme as I’d been thinking. My general line of thought is that Ms. Muggenthaler has been engaging, both to the press and most likely at this presentation, in speculation that runs ahead of the currently available scientific evidence.

    My biggest problem with what’s being said is the use of the words “bio-sonar” and “echo-location”. These terms contain some implicit assumptions that shouldn’t be made. Echo-location is an *action* – the use of sound waves to determine the location of objects. One can’t claim that the sound is being *used* in a certain way without knowing about the entity creating the sound and its behavior. At best, Ms. Muggenthaler can state that she’s recorded sounds that are similar to, but not the same as, the sounds made by other organisms that have been shown to use echo-location. There’s an implicit acceptance that the sound she’s recorded is made by a living creature and more specifically that it’s using it to navigate, neither of which are borne out by the evidence so far at hand. Claims about *behavior* can’t be justified at this point. Ms. Muggenthaler had an article published regarding the similarity between whale and rhino sounds, but certainly nothing suggests that the rhinos use echo-location, no matter how similar the sounds, so similarity of these sounds to whales and dolphins cannot be used to justify a leap to claim that echo-location is being used in the lake.

    Wuffing rightly notes that Ms. Muggenthaler engaged in extensive speculation in that article regarding the existence of a creature, its size and its behavior. She’s also stated that her evidence is irrefutable. Yet she’s also stated that there isn’t enough evidence yet to justify a scientific paper and that even her initial data report is on hold pending more information. I’m not sure how one can have irrefutable evidence on the one hand but also not enough to be able to make it into print or convince a panel of peers.

    I also read about her group using private funding to put up 24/7 solar sound detectors around the lake, but no information yet about what if anything was recorded. It’s my opinion that it’s inappropriate to move on to using others’ money for this type of monitoring without having at least peer-reviewed the original finding, but I guess it’s “irrefutable”. I also read that during Ms. Muggenthaler’s sound recordings, a group of divers were placed into the water immediately upon hearing the sound, yet over 45 minutes observed nothing, let alone a 15-foot creature. Again, I would think this would give one pause before proceeding to a large scale “Phase II”. Perhaps a set of three boats to perform triangulation on the source of the sound if it were heard again would have been a better next step.

    I’m uneasy getting into this, but this is not the only case with Ms. Muggenthaler and speculation. If one examines her organization’s website you’ll learn that it’s a very small outfit consisting of a few people with no direct ties to any college or research institution.
    There are claims and appeals for funds on the front page regarding two “inventions” that they are working on. Both descriptions are vague. The first talks about animals and healing. I tracked down some information in an article where it’s somewhat hard to differentiate between the views of the author and Ms. Muggenthaler. However, it seems that there’s some anecdotal observations regarding cats and their frequencies of arthritis and broken bones and a major leap to the idea that cats’ purring is some form of “vibrational medicine” to heal them, or at least their bones. This interpretation of the article is supported by the description of Ms. Muggenthaler’s invention, which does talk about animals having the ability to heal and this invention’s use on people. I did not manage to track down any other sources regarding the second invention, but the description suggests it could be used for earthquake detection. Needless to say, if Ms. Muggenthaler could accomplish either of these things, there would be a Nobel Prize waiting for her. Of course, nothing on her website links to any peer-reviewed (or otherwise) articles she’s written regarding “vibrational medicine”, earthquake detection, etc. I’m not questioning her abiilty to perform science, but I would politely suggest that she’s begun to exhibit a pattern of taking her data and extrapolating far, far in advance of where the evidence has led so far.

    All we know is that three *different* sounds were heard, the results have never been independently reviewed or verified, and there has been no declared successful repeat of this experiment by Ms. Muggenthaler or others since then. There was no known attempt to acertain who or what might have been operating on the lake that day that could be the source of the sounds. No visual identification was made even when the sounds were detected close by. Ms. Muggenthaler has made several subsequent claims that can’t be justified by the known data. I’m not sure that’s enough to hold up as proof of a large, unknown echo-locating creature in the lake as yet. I’d like to see a repeat of the experiment, and if successful, attempts to pinpoint the location of the sound with the intent of tracking and visually indentifying the source. As Wuffing notes, an unexpected mechanical source is quite possible.