Shipment insurance

Millions of bees die in Delta Airlines shipment gone wrong

A shipment of approximately 5 million honey bees bound for Alaska has been re-routed to Atlanta, Georgia. Unfortunately, it appears Delta Air Lines left the crates of bees outside on the hot floor, killing many of them.

The insects were sent to the beekeeper Sarah McElrea from a distributor in California. The 200 crates of bees were intended for more than 300 beekeepers. These bees would pollinate apple orchards and nurseries. Alaskan beekeepers needed it because they are not native to the area. It was also only the first part of 2 expeditions.

Delta Airlines, photo by Julian Herzog, WikiMedia Commons

In the past, Delta Air Lines has successfully completed these shipments via a route from Sacramento, CA to Seattle, WA to Anchorage, AK. But this time the cargo didn’t fit on the plane to Seattle. So he was redirected through the Atlanta hub. McElrea grew concerned when the 800-pound shipment failed to arrive in time for the connecting flight.

The next day, Delta told him that bees had escaped. Thus, the crate was removed from the cooler it was in and placed on the tarmac. One of the problems is that it was 83 degrees, way too hot for the bees. Another problem was that they attracted local bees, causing the crate to swarm, making it “harder to get to”.

Delta told McElrea she had to pick up the crate or it would be left there. “I’m in Alaska and they’re dying on the East Coast,” she replied. She started calling frantically until she found herself on the line with the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association swarm hotline. The swarm commander, David Marshallput her in touch with a member Edward Morgan.

Not knowing what to expect, Morgan came armed with beehives, bee vacuums, and food. But by the time he got there, around 25% had already died from the heat and starvation. He also noticed that the crates were placed upside down. This prevented the bees from accessing their food, which added to the other problems.

It was decided that the best course of action was to try to donate the remaining live bees. So jimmy gat, the president of the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association, and Morgan swung into action. They emailed and posted messages to members of the Georgia Beekeepers Association and the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association saying there were free bees at the airport.

About 25 people showed up. They sifted through the boxes to see how many they could salvage, but the death toll kept rising. “It’s devastating to see so many deaths,” Julia Mahood, a master beekeeper from Georgia, told WABE. “Just clumps of dead bees that didn’t stand a chance because they were left outside with no food.” Many relocated bees are also struggling, so we may never know how many bees this event actually killed.

“The worst thing for me is how they suffered, and there was nothing I could do about it,” McElrea said.

McElrea plans to file a claim with Delta to be reimbursed for the $48,000 loss, as transporting livestock is not covered by insurance. To prevent this from happening again, McElrea and her husband plan to fly from Alaska to Seattle. Then they will travel to Sacramento with vehicles large enough to pick up the replacement bees.

Delta spokeswoman Catherine Morrow said in an emailed statement that the airline “was made aware of the shipment situation … and 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.