About 5 million bees heading to Alaska last weekend were intercepted when Delta Air Lines flew them through Atlanta, where most of the bees died after sitting for hours in boxes on the ground during hot weather. .
The bees were the first of two shipments ordered by Alaska beekeeper Sarah McElrea from a distributor in California. The bees would be used to pollinate apple orchards and nurseries in Alaska, where they are not native.
But the bees were kicked off their original route to Anchorage, Alaska, and instead took a flight to Atlanta, where they would be transferred to a plane bound for Anchorage, according to Alaska Public Media.
McElrea said she became concerned when the 800-pound shipment didn’t arrive in Atlanta in time to catch the connecting flight. The next day, he said, Delta told him some bees had escaped, so airline workers put the boxes of bees outside.
Panicked, McElrea contacted a beekeeper in Atlanta, who rushed to the airport and found that most of the bees had died from the heat, according to McElrea.
Delta called it an “unfortunate situation.”
In an emailed statement, Delta spokeswoman Catherine Morrow told The Associated Press on Friday that the airline “was aware of the shipping situation … and quickly engaged the appropriate internal teams to assess the situation.” We have taken immediate steps to implement further measures to ensure that events of this nature do not occur in the future.”
Morrow said that Delta apologized to McElrea. The airline refused to make anyone available for an interview.
Atlanta beekeeper Edward Morgan called more than a dozen people to the airport to try to save the remaining bees.
“This is a disaster,” Gina Galucci of the Georgia Beekeepers Association told Atlanta broadcaster WABE. “We mobilized very, very quickly. We did it because we know they are going to die.”
McElrea, who runs a business called Sarah’s Alaska Honey, told The New York Times that he had received previous shipments of bees on Delta from Sacramento, California, to Anchorage via Seattle many times. The airline told him last weekend’s shipment didn’t fit on the plane, so they were diverted through Atlanta.
“People don’t understand how dependent we are as a species on bees for pollination,” McElrea told the Times. “And this is a waste, an absolute tragedy.”
McElrea said his supplier in California will replace the shipment, which was worth about $48,000. He said he hopes Delta will provide some help, though he acknowledged that shipping live animals carries risks.
It is not the first time that bees have died in transit. In 2021, approximately one million bees shipped by a Pennsylvania distributor died when left in a hot UPS truck for weeks. The delivery giant said the bees were in faulty packaging and were being held in the Boston suburb.