Swimming Swine

Swimming pigs on Big Major Cay, an island located in the Bahamas, have become a popular tourist attraction in the faraway region known as the Exumas. That peculiar fact alone was enough to grab the attention of sailing enthusiasts, Jeff and Bev, prompting them to check out the bathing beauties for themselves.

You’ve probably heard that old adage “When pigs fly!”  But, have you heard the saying “When pigs swim?”

We heard a rumor of swimming pigs in the Exumas, a district of the Bahamas, and on a recent sailing trip aboard our catamaran, Mer Soleil, we did indeed discover the adorable and mysterious swimming pigs of the Exumas.

The uninhabited island of Big Major Cay (pronounced “key”) is home to a large family of wild pigs that live and roam freely throughout the island, spending a large part of their time on what is now known as Pig Beach. The group of swine we saw numbered about 20, ranging in size from cute little piglets to some very large, fully-grown hogs. We spoke with several people, and no one we talked with knew exactly how the pigs came to be on the island; though it is rumored they had either survived a shipwreck and swam ashore or were placed there by early sailors to be used as food in the future. The practice of planting pigs, goats, and chickens on remote islands was common habit by pirates and Spanish explorers in hopes they would reproduce to provide food on return trips. Another possible explanation: the pigs were placed on the island by a local entrepreneur who would return periodically to slaughter one and sell the meat to the local people who lived on nearby islands.

It’s a pig’s life, for sure! The pigs spend their days playing on the beach, basking in the sun, and swimming in the cool crystal clear ocean water.  When visiting sailors and vacationers arrive, the pigs go hog wild for handouts and left over food. Although the pigs are tame and accustomed to human contact, they are still feral. In their enthusiastic squeal to grab a tasty morsel, they could potentially bite the hand that feeds them. Or equally as bad, try to climb aboard your boat.

As Bev and I sailed around the corner of the island, heading toward Pig Beach, we saw a litter of younger piglets wandering the sandy shore. Three or four larger hogs waded in the water and started swimming straight for us. These swine are powerful swimmers. As they approached our dinghy, the vision of a 400-pound hungry boar, half the length of our boat trying to climb aboard gave me reason enough to quickly throw some food in the water.  The distraction allowed us to safely venture closer to shore.

Once onto dry land, we fed the pigs leftover food we saved from lunch. Be careful where you walk; hoof prints aren’t the only things these guys leave on the beach! Wading back into the water with a couple of the large hogs following us, we tossed pieces of bread which they gladly accepted. I was able to carefully pet a big spotted hog, and Beverly patted one a little too hard; he swung his head with open mouth toward her in such a fashion as if to say “be careful there missy!”

With our leftovers gone and the sun getting low, it was time to say goodbye to the swimming pigs of the Exumas and make our way back to Mer Soleil to continue our sailing adventures. These animals have become quite the tourist attraction and are now as much of the Exumas experience as any other aquatic attraction. If ever afforded the opportunity to visit Big Major Cay and see the swimming pigs of the Exumas for yourself, just remember: bring some food with you. They don’t call them pigs for nothing!

Jeff Wood and Beverly Brewer are outdoor enthusiasts who love sailing and adventure travel. Jeff is an accomplished sailor, a helicopter ski guide, an experienced rock climber & caver, and a competent scuba diver. Bev is an accomplished sailor, skier, sea kayaker, tree hugging naturalist. She's also an aspiring artist, photographer, and paragliding enthusiast who recently bought a live aboard catamaran for exploring tropical islands. When not on the water sailing in the Caribbean or traveling the world, Jeff and Bev can be found hiking, camping, canyoneering, and skiing in the back-country of Montana & Utah.