For human passengers, having a Delta Air Lines flight rerouted through the airline's Atlanta hub might be annoying. For millions of bees that were being sent from California to Alaska, it was fatal. Sarah McElrae, who runs a business that supplies Alaskan beekeepers and pollination services, tells the New York Times that she has used Delta many times to transport bees from Sacramento to Anchorage, but she was told last month that a shipment of 5 million bees didn't fit on a plane and would have to be sent via Atlanta. She says that the shipment didn't make a connecting flight and that the bee crates ended up being stored outside on the tarmac in weather that was far too hot for them.
McElrae, beginning to panic over what would happen to the bees, called an Atlanta bee swarm hotline after they had been at the airport for two days. Local beekeeper Edward Morgan tells the Washington Post that he rushed to the airport to find that many of the bees were already dead or dying—some had succumbed to the 80-degree heat and others had died because the crates had been placed upside down, meaning they couldn't access the sugar syrup being used as a food substitute. Morgan says McElrae agreed that the remaining bees wouldn't survive a flight to Alaska. Around 25 local beekeepers responded to a "free bees" email and helped rescue the survivors.
Jimmy Gatt, president of the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association, estimates that around 70% of the bees died. McElrae says it was " a waste, an absolute tragedy," especially since local orchards and nurseries were depending on the shipment of pollinators. She says she's grateful to Morgan and other members of the beekeeping community. "During such a heartbreaking moment, it gave me hope to know there was at least a chance some of them would make it," she said. "To me, the Atlanta beekeepers are heroes." Delta says it is taking steps "to ensure events of this nature do not occur in the future," the AP reports. (Read more bees stories.)