Millions of bees used in pollination die in airline shipping

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A shipment of honeybees bound from California to Alaska died after an airline re-routed them through Atlanta, then left them to sit on the tarmac during hot weather

April 29, 2022, 7: 07 PM

3 min read

About 5 million honeybees bound for Alaska last weekend got waylaid when Delta Air Lines routed them through Atlanta, where most of the bees died after being left for hours in crates on the ground during hot weather. The bees were the first shipment ordered by Sarah McElrea, an Alaska beekeeper, from a distributor in California. The bees were intended to pollinate nurseries and apple orchards in Alaska, where they aren’t native.

The bees were diverted from their original route to Anchorage and flown to Atlanta instead. They were then to be transferred to an Anchorage bound plane, according to published reports.

McElrea said she worried when the 800-pound shipment didn’t arrive in Atlanta in time to make the connecting flight. She said that Delta informed her the next day that some bees had escaped. So, airline workers placed the crates containing the bees in a Delta cargo bay. McElrea panicked and called a beekeeper in Atlanta. They discovered that many of these bees had died from heatstroke 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 that the airline “was made aware of the shipment situation … and quickly engaged the appropriate internal teams to assess the situation. We have taken immediate action to implement new measures to ensure events of this nature do not occur in the future.”

Morrow said Delta apologized to McElrea. The airline declined to allow anyone to interview.

Edward Morgan, Atlanta’s beekeeper, called more than a dozen people for help to get to the airport to save any bees still alive.

” “It’s devastating to see that many dead,” Julia Mahood, a Georgia beekeeper, told Atlanta broadcaster WABE. “Just clumps of dead bees that had no 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 that she had received previous shipments of honeybees on Delta from Sacramento, California, to Anchorage via Seattle many times. The airline informed McElrea that the last weekend’s shipment was too big for the plane so they were rerouted through Atlanta.

McElrea said her supplier in California will replace the shipment, which was worth about $48,000. She stated that she hopes Delta will provide some assistance, but she acknowledged that shipping live animals poses risks.

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