There are many activities to do in the Bahamas, such as soaking in the sun, going on a boat tour, and snorkeling through a reef. But in between those rather mundane activities, you can also see something that no other place in the world offers: pigs swimming in the crystal-clear waters.
The pigs are the sole inhabitants of Big Major Cay, a member of the Exuma islands to the southwest of Nassau. They jostle elbows with celebrities like Johnny Depp and Faith Hill, who own nearby islands. Although they are feral animals, they are completely safe and aware that humans bring delicious food. As a result, they rush into the surf and swim out to meet boats of tourists, where they are photographed, fed, and generally cooed over.
The pigs are admittedly adorable. There are about 20 pigs on the island right now, although their number has diminished severely at times, and many have names. Some are spotted, some are brown or black, some are a classic pink. Most are very friendly toward visitors.
Incredible selfies of swimming alongside a piglet with the heavenly backdrop of the Bahamas have made the Exuma pigs an internet sensation. They have also been the marketing mascot of the Exumas since 2013. T.R. Todd, a former editor at the Nassau Guardian, and Charlie Allan Smith, a local filmmaker, created a promotional video called When Pigs Swim that showcases the porkers in their paradisiacal setting. The video suggests that the clear water allows the pigs to see their feet, making it easier and safer to swim.
After the video went viral, the swine appeared across media outlets, tourism increased, and Todd followed it up with a book, Pigs of Paradise. The book chronicles the history of the swimming pigs, as well as recounting other experiences in the Bahamas and generally pondering the relationship between humans and pigs. A documentary of the same name came out in 2018 and has been shown at independent film festivals.
The origin of the pigs on Big Major Cay is a bit of a mystery. One romantic theory is that they survived a shipwreck hundreds of years ago. After being washed ashore on one of the few islands with freshwater, the pigs thrived and multiplied into today’s colony. Another equally dreamy suggestion is that pirates hid them on the island in the distant past and never returned to claim their treasure.
The reality is probably more prosaic. Residents of nearby islands needed a place to keep their swine that was convenient and yet also out of the way. Big Major Cay was a pig farm until the 1990’s, and even today there is no law that prevents locals from selecting and slaughtering their pork dinner from the colony. Of course, the social media outrage in that scenario would dissuade anyone.
The porkers’ popularity, however, has downsides as well. In 2017, the number of pigs was at only 8 or 9. Originally, investigators suspected that tourists had accidentally given the pigs lethal amounts of alcohol. Later, they determined that tourists had thrown food onto the sand, causing the animals to ingest unhealthy levels of sand. The pigs are accustomed to foraging in the forest, and spending more time on the beach with visitors has proven problematic.
Consequently, volunteers created signs to remind visitors to treat the pigs with care and feed them in the water. They also established the Official Swimming Pigs Association to provide medical treatment, dietary supplements, and freshwater for the pigs. The porker population on Big Major Cay has now returned to normal levels.
If you’re planning a holiday in the Bahamas and want your own Insta selfie with the pigs, official boat tours operate out of the Exuma Tourist Office. In case you find yourself unsatisfied with just the pig experience, the tour also includes more traditional Bahamian activities like feeding rock iguanas, snorkeling, and petting stingrays. But as long as the Exuma swimming pigs remain happy and healthy, it seems likely that they will remain the primary tourist attraction for years to come.