Millions of Alaska-bound Honey Bees Die

Millions of Alaska-bound honeybees die at Atlanta airport

by Sabine Poux,

The bees were bound for Anchorage, where they were to be shipped to beekeepers across the state. (Photo by Matthew Pearson/WABE)

Hundreds of pounds of honeybees were set to ship from the Lower 48 to beekeepers across Alaska last weekend, but died in transit when the crates carrying them were left for hours on a hot tarmac in Atlanta.

Soldotna beekeeper Sarah McElrea said the loss is devastating. She runs Sarah’s Alaska Honey and also teaches classes and coordinates shipments of bees to beekeepers around Alaska.

On Sunday, she was waiting at the Anchorage airport for a shipment of 800 pounds of bees from a distributor in Sacramento, California. It was the first of two shipments that she had ordered on behalf of more than 300 Alaskan beekeepers.

“We had a load that was going to Fairbanks, and then we had somebody else that was going to distribute from Wasilla to Talkeetna,” she said. “And then we were going to do Anchorage and the Valley. And then our second one would’ve come in the following day, and we would’ve taken that one back down to the Peninsula to fulfill the rest of our orders.”

But the plan hit a snag when the bees were pushed from the original Delta flight. Instead, the airline rerouted them to Atlanta, where they were supposed to catch a direct flight to Anchorage.

When they didn’t make that flight, McElrea really started to worry. Honeybees don’t do well in extreme heat. McElrea asked that the bees be put in a cooler.

But the next day, the airline told her some bees had escaped from their crates and so Delta put them outside.

“I really panicked when they found they had moved them outside because the pheromones that those honeybees emit are attractive to other honeybees that are native to the area,” she said.

Sure enough, outside bees gathered around the crate, so it looked like more bees were escaping.

McElrea said Delta refused to put the shipment on the plane. So she turned to the internet for help.

“I got on Facebook and made a quick post to a page that is based in Georgia,” she said.

That’s how she connected with Atlanta beekeeper Edward Morgan. He went to the airport to take a look and found most of the bees in the shipment were already dead from the heat. McElrea said it was 80 degrees in Atlanta that day.

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Note: This event happened in April. Catch the Buzz will sometimes post articles after the fact.

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