Some passengers had their flights delayed this week because one 200-kilogram (450-pound) seal found the perfect spot to sunbathe – on an airport runway.
Airport foreman, Scott Babcock, spotted the critter at Will Rogers Memorial Airport in Utqiagvik, northern Alaska, when he was removing snow from the runway after a heavy storm on Monday. He decided to share this delightful, if a little surreal, encounter on Facebook.
He simply captions “FOD”, which is transport industry speak for “Foreign Object Debris”.
“It was very strange to see the seal. I’ve seen a lot of things on runways, but never a seal,” Babcock told reporters at ABC News.
The Facebook post was quickly picked up by the Alaska Department of Transport (ADOT), who called the incident #alaskaproblems. They also advised aircraft operators to keep an eye out for “low sealings at our North Slope facilities”.
According to Babcock, airport staff aren’t allowed to handle marine mammals so North Slope Borough Animal Control was called in to deal with the lost seal, who they proceeded to remove with a heavy-duty snow blower and sled.
Meadow Bailey, ADOT communications director, told local news site and television station KTVA that airport staff have called in reported sightings of birds, caribou, polar bears, and musk on the runway in the past. This, however, is the first instance involving a seal.
“Wildlife strikes to aircraft pose a significant safety hazard and cost the aviation industry hundreds of millions of dollars each year,” Bailey told KTVA. “Birds make up over 90 percent of strikes in the US, while mammal strikes are rare.”
The bearded seal (otherwise known as an oogruk) is the largest breed of Arctic seal and can grow up to 7-8 feet tall, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And while at 200 kilograms the one found at Will Rogers Memorial Airport was a pretty big beast, they can reach weights of up to 360 kilograms (800 pounds).