About 5 million bees bound for Alaska last weekend had to cross the road when Delta Air Lines routed them through Atlanta, with most bees dying after being left for hours in cages on the ground during hot weather.
The bees were the first of two shipments ordered by Alaskan beekeeper Sarah McElrea from a California distributor. The bees were to be used to pollinate apple orchards and nurseries in Alaska, where they are not indigenous.
But the bees were bumped from their original route to Anchorage, Alaska, and were instead taken on a flight to Atlanta, where they were due to be transferred to an Anchorage-bound flight, according to published reports.
McElrea said she was concerned when the 800-pound shipment did not reach Atlanta in time for the connecting flight. She said Delta told her the next day that some of the bees had escaped, so airline workers put the boxes carrying the bees outside of Delta’s cargo bay.
In a panic, Mackleria arrived at a beekeeper in Atlanta, who rushed to the airport and discovered many of the bees had died of heat and starvation, according to the New York Times.
Delta described it as an “unfortunate situation”.
In an emailed statement, Delta spokeswoman Catherine Morrow told The Associated Press on Friday that the airline “was informed of the status of the shipment… and quickly engaged the appropriate internal teams to assess the situation. We have taken immediate action to implement new measures to ensure that no events occur from this kind in the future.”
Moreau said Delta has apologized to McCleria. The airline refused to make anyone available for an interview.
Edward Morgan, an Atlanta beekeeper, summoned more than a dozen people to go to the airport and try to rescue any bees still alive.
“It’s devastating to see so many deaths,” Georgia Beekeeper Julia Mahood told WABE station in Atlanta. “Just clumps of dead bees that didn’t stand a chance because they were left outside without food and basically lost in the Delta machines.”
McElrea, who runs a company called Sarah’s Alaska Honey, said she has received previous shipments of Delta honeybees from Sacramento, California, to Anchorage via Seattle several times. The airline told her that last weekend’s shipment was not suitable on board, so it was rerouted through Atlanta.
McElrea said its California supplier will replace the shipment, which was worth about $48,000. She said she hoped Delta could provide some help, though she acknowledged that shipping live animals carries risks.