Staffers at Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport in Utqiaġvik, Alaska, were in for a surprise on Oct. 24 when they found a trespasser on the runway. And the large, bearded, snow-covered guest looked like he was right at home on the tarmac of the northernmost airport in the U.S.
"Our staff went to check it out and were surprised to discover that a seal was actually on the runway," Meadow Bailey, communications director for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOTPF), told Alaska Dispatch News.
The bearded seal weighed around 450 pounds, according to Bailey. Peacefully lounging on the tarmac, his photo was quickly snapped and circulated by those present.
As much as the DOTPF crew was delighted to meet the chunky seal, the heavy storms that are currently hitting Utqiaġvik escalated the urgency of removing the wild animal from the runway. Bailey said that North Slope Borough Animal Control first arrived with a pickup truck, which didn’t seem like the appropriate tool, so they left and returned with a sled hitched onto a snow machine, Atlas Obscura reports.
“They were able to take the sled onto the runway, and roll the seal onto the sled. They didn’t have to tranquilize it or anything like that,” Bailey said.
While the Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport is roughly a quarter-mile away from the ocean, DOTPF staffers believe that the seal traveled about a mile to get to the runway.
And since Alaska is home to 282 land-based airports, Bailey described the state's hundreds of runways as “really just part of the landscape,” adding that they have “a lot” of wildlife, from musk oxen to caribou, polar bears and birds alike. Nevertheless, no one on her staff can recall the last time they spotted a seal on the runway.
Gone just as quickly as he had arrived, the seal did not hold up any flights, either.
"#alaskaproblems," the DOTPF wrote of the event on Facebook.