Millions of bees used for pollination die in air travel

A shipment of bees bound for California to Alaska died after an airline rerouted them through Atlanta, then left them to sit on the tarmac in hot weather

About 5 million bees bound for Alaska last weekend were captured when Delta Air Lines routed them through Atlanta, where most of the bees died after being left for hours in crates on the ground by warm weather.

The bees were the first of two shipments ordered by Alaska beekeeper Sarah McElrea from a distributor in California. The bees were to be used to pollinate apple orchards and nurseries in Alaska, where they are not native.

But the bees were pushed back from their original route to Anchorage, Alaska, and instead flew to Atlanta, where they were to be transferred to a plane bound for Anchorage, according to published reports.

McElrea said she was concerned when the 800-pound shipment didn’t arrive in Atlanta in time for the connecting flight. The next day, she said, Delta told her that bees had escaped, so airline employees placed the crates containing the bees outside of a Delta cargo hold.

Panicking, McElrea joined a beekeeper in Atlanta, who rushed to the airport and found that many bees had died of heat and starvation, according to The New York Times.

Delta called it an “unfortunate situation.”

In an emailed statement, Delta spokeswoman Catherine Morrow told The Associated Press on Friday that the airline “has been made aware of the shipment status … and has promptly engaged the appropriate internal teams to assess the situation. We took immediate action to implement further measures to prevent events of this nature from happening again in the future.

Morrow said Delta apologized to McElrea. The airline declined to make anyone available for an interview.

Atlanta beekeeper Edward Morgan called more than a dozen people to come to the airport and try to save the still-living bees.

“It’s devastating to see so many deaths,” Georgia beekeeper Julia Mahood told Atlanta broadcaster WABE. “Just clumps of dead bees that didn’t stand a chance because they were left outside with no food and basically got lost in Delta’s machinery.”

McElrea, who runs a business called Sarah’s Alaska Honey, said she had received previous shipments of bees on Delta several times from Sacramento, Calif., to Anchorage via Seattle. The airline told him last weekend’s shipment didn’t fit on the plane, so they were redirected to Atlanta.

McElrea said his supplier in California would replace the shipment, which was worth about $48,000. She said she hoped Delta would provide help, although she acknowledged that shipping live animals comes with risks.