, Gloucester, MA

June 28, 2013

Bees bring railway to its knees

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — About 25,000 honey bees in search of a home, buzzed over to the Marine Railways on Rocky Neck Wednesday morning, clumping into a five-pound swarm to make a temporary camp that kept folks on their tippy toes for the day.

“We were all just working around the yard, and they came in like a herd of locusts,” said Gloucester Marine Railways manager Viking Gustafson. “Everyone just looked up and said ‘whoa’ and scrambled.”

The bees situated themselves first in a pile of scaffolding and later moved to an electrical box, before a local beekeeper adopted the mass.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Gustafson said. “When they settled down they just created this basketball-sized hanging cluster.”

Gustafson said she thought she was just grasping for straws when she picked up the phone and dialed the Fire Department, but the department’s response in heading over — drawing in the city’s animal control officer and eventually calling on a local beekeeper to remove the hive — elicited praise from Gustafson Thursday.

“We all discussed it, talked about the risks, they went out and found the resources, kept me in the loop, gave me phone numbers,” Gustafson said. “The public service end of the police and fire departments was superb.”

Deputy Fire Chief Miles Schlichte said emergency personnel first considered a number of options — smoking the bees to sleep, using a quick burst of carbon monoxide to freeze the bees, or using a quick burst of flame or water to kill them off.”

But, Schlichte said “All of these options were deemed not to be in the best interest of all involved — especially the bees.”

Emergency personnel decided to just give the bees a “wide berth” initially, but when the swarm switched spots and headed for shelter in an electrical box, Schlichte picked up a phone and called Greg Morrow, a beekeeper who lives on Briarwood Road.

Morrow pulled up later in his white truck, a bee graphic painted on each side. He carried an empty wooden beekeeping box over to the humming swarm. He ushered the swarm into the box, and secured an opening with bits of foam, hoping all the way home that the bees would get enough air despite the foam.

Morrow said the bees had probably struggled through a rough day of their own. He said they had probably mobilized from a hive somewhere in East Gloucester looking for a new home, then settled for the Gloucester Marine Railways when rain started pouring. The hive follows the queen bee in their travels, and she probably just got tired, Morrow said.

By Thursday morning, the bees were likely already planning to build a honey comb and deposit the honey on the insides into their new home, he said.

“When swarms take off, they go on this great journey to start a new colony and they don’t go with empty stomachs, except the queen bee,” Morrow said. “They go with stomachs full of honey.”

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at