Pilots warned of 'low sealings' at Utqiagvik airport
Airports in Alaska, too, are subject to encounters with wildlife.
At the Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport in Utqiagvik, they say that finding musk oxen on the runway is part of everyday life. But, when an animal of another kind laid out to sunbathe on the runway Monday, even airport officials were surprised.
Monday, Scott Babcock shared a photo and video of a bearded seal cavalierly lounging on the runway at the airport with the caption, FOD-- airport slang for "Foreign Object Debris."
The post received lots of attention and was eventually shared by the Alaska Department of Transportation, who cracked a joke warning pilots of "low sealings" at the airport.
Babcock says DOT employees are not allowed to haze marine mammals and are only able to observe. That's why North Slope Animal Control was called out to safely remove the animal from the runway and airport operations were able to resume as usual. Animal control removed the bearded seal, that's estimated to weigh 450 pounds, with a sled.
Meadow Bailey, ADOT communications director, says Utqiagvik experienced heavy storms Monday. While staff was clearing the runway after the storms passed, that's when the seal was found hanging out on the runway.
Bailey says airport staff reports seeing birds, caribou, polar bears and musk ox on the runway, but the seal sighting is a first.
"Wildlife strikes to aircraft pose a significant safety hazard and cost the aviation industry hundreds of millions of dollars each year," Bailey said. "Birds make up over 90 percent of strikes in the US, while mammal strikes are rare. The safety of our aviation system and the traveling public is the primary goal during all wildlife control efforts. DOT&PF (public facilities) rural airports partner with USDA wildlife damage biologists, ADF&G, USFWS, FAA, and others to develop and implement plans to manage wildlife hazards at the 19 airports certified by FAA."
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