Swimming Pigs On Pig Island in The Bahamas

Swimming Pigs On Pig Island in The Bahamas
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While the Bahamas as a whole is a hot spot tourist destination, a cay on the island has been making quite a splash. Big Major Cay is known its beautiful waters, tropical fish, dolphins and turtles but there is also something else the waters are known for, pigs. Home to dozens of pigs, one can find them swimming in the waters and they are very friendly.

Twenty pig and piglets live on the island and since the island is uninhabited by people, the pigs freely roam it at their leisure. This led to a nickname for the island known as “Pig Island” or “Pig Beach”.  The beach is located in the Bahama Islands within a section near the Staniel in The Exumas.

When a boat arrives as Pig Beach, the friendly pigs swim out to meet new strangers they hope will feed them.

History of Swimming Pigs On Pig Island in The Bahamas

While no one really knows where the pigs came from, there are different theories swirling around. A popular theory is that they were left on the beach by some sailors who originally expected to use them as food. Since the sailors left and never returned, the pigs were able to roam freely. Another popular theory is that the pigs swam to the shoreline when they became shipwrecked. One last theory is that the pigs were relocated to the island when there was an anticipation of an economic slowdown during the Gulf War. The story states that people were concerned about not being able to get food to The Bahamas from the US in which case, the plan was to start a livestock farm so that they would have something to eat. The pigs however grew much bigger, broke out their pen and began to freely roam the beach. Another suggestion is that the pigs were brought to the island as some sort of marketing scheme to promote visitors to the island.

A story many visitors have heard is that the pigs date back to the early ‘90’s when a family kept pigs at their home and moved them to near-by Big Major Cay when they became to stinky for surrounding neighbors. They were left to roam freely on the island while gradually multiplying in number. The family who left them on the island would come back ever so often and choose one for slaughter and the meat would be sold to locals. Through the years however, tourists started arriving on the island and the island has become a variable hot spot ever since.

Chances are, someone really knows how the pigs got there on the island but isn’t the mystery much more exciting?

Pig Power

The pigs love attention and as stated earlier, they love making new friends who will feed them and some of their favorite food is fresh produce like carrots, grapes, watermelon, apples and lettuce. Foods that are high in starch, processed or bready are not pig favorites.

The pigs have the power when it comes to the island so there are certain times they are out and they are usually always searching for food.  They have all the power when it comes to being seen or not because often times, they like to hide in the shade or when there is a storm on the horizon. Since the island can only be reached by boat, the chances of seeing the pigs increases or decreases depending on the hour and season. A lot of boat tours run from 9 a.m. to sunset but typically by the afternoon hours, the pigs are all tuckered out from a long day of eating and making new friends. Between June and November, which is hurricane season, the pigs are usually tucked away wherever they can find shelter.

Billionaires and celebrities are neighbors of the pigs and many celebrities have visited the island over the years to take pictures of their own. The island has appeared in magazines, newspapers, videos, TV shows, and commercials.

Swimming with the Pigs

  • Two things make these little pigs so popular.
  • They are on an island and no one knows for sure how they actually got there.
  • They are avid swimmers and lots of people travel to Big Major Cay just to swim with them.

It’s easy to swim with the pigs because they swim right out the incoming boats, as long as they aren’t too tired. Usually though, they are looking for food so they all happily meet their new visitors. Once the boat has reached shallow water, swimming with the pigs becomes an easy adventure. This is where they can be fed scraps of food. It is even said that they are polite and usually wait for their food to be given to them.

These pigs are about 300 pounds (sans the piglets) so it’s an amazing thing to see when watching them swim right tourists.  Not only that, it has been said that they are very graceful swimmers.

The Bahamas Has More Than Pigs

The Bahamas, a coral-based archipelago that can be found in the Atlantic Ocean has more than 700 islands and cays on it. Most of the islands and cays are uninhibited while others are packed with visitors headed to a resort. Grand Bahama found at the north section of the Bahamas is most popular for its large scale hotels. The Andros Barrier Reef is most popular for snorkeling and scuba diving while the Thunderball Grotto is where one of the James Bond movies was filmed. Millions of tourists visit the Bahamas every year to do some fishing or scuba diving. Nature lovers tend to visit other areas of interest like the Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve or the Lucayan National Park. As for history buffs, it’s interesting to know that ruins and artifacts from the colonial era and from indigious tribes like the Arawak and Lucayan Indians can be found on Cat Island, San Salvador and other Bahamian islands.

The Bahamas are sectioned off into three major sections: the Great Exuma, the Little Exuma and the Exuma Cays. While there are over 350 different cays, many of them are privately owned by billionaires and celebrities like Tyler Perry, David Copperfield, Faith Hill and Johnny Depp.

While the pigs are most famously known about, there are many different types of animals that can be found when traveling to the Bahamas. Compass Cay has nurse sharks that make great swimming companions and Bitter Guana Cay is home to Exuma Island guanas (who are endangered). There are plenty of sand dollars on the beaches of Cocoplum and seas turtles can be found at Little Farmer’s Cay. Of course, there are also plenty of colorful fish to be seen at the Thunderball Grotto.

Compass Cay

Compass Cay, a private island found in the Outer Exumas which is south of Exumas Cays Land and Sea Park had friendly nurse sharks. Nurse sharks look very similar to catfish and are bottom feeders. They can usually be found at the bottom of the shallow water sucking up sediment and small critters within in the sand. A high-pitched squeal can be heard when tourists are underwater with them. While they look like a catfish, they are actually sharks with a dorsal fin and everything. The cay is also filled with beautiful landscapes.

Thunderball Grotto

Thunderball Grotto is a very popular area in the Bahamas due to it being the filming destination for the James Bond film released in 1965 known as Thunderball. In 2006, filming crews came back to the Bahamas to film another James Bond movie called Casino Royale. The path  that leads to the grotto is dark and can only be described as eerie and full of mystery. But if one keeps moving through it, it becomes a beautiful and impressive cavern filled with hundreds of colorful fish. Some say it’s like being in a life size aquarium. The grotto is filled with light coming from every direction due to holes in the ceiling, side and even below the surface.  It is located just west of Staniel Cay and is the perfect place for wading, diving and snorkeling. The beautiful waters and coral reefs are filled with Angel fish, yellow-tail snappers so much more.

Little Farmer’s Cay

Farmer’s Cay, as it’s locally known as is filled with massively large sea turtles and it’s the perfect spot to swim with them. The cay is filled with stunning natural beauty and has plenty of other sea creatures to swim with too.

Bitter Guana Cay

Bitter Guana Cay, native to eight of the islands around Staniel Cay and the Great Exuma Cays is filled with the endangered Exuma Island Rock Iguana. These iguanas are protected under the Wild Animals Protection Act. Because they like their isolation, the iguanas are indigenous to the island and can’t be found anywhere else. About 5,000 roam the island. These little cute reptiles have been studied by scientists and many say they resemble the dinosaurs, which isn’t a stretch since they would have descended from them. Fun fact: Bitter Guana Cay is said to be where Steven Spielberg got his inspiration from when filming the opening scene of Jurassic Park III: The Lost World. The iguanas are very social beings but only to their own colonies. They love to relax and bask in the sun.

A Concern for the Pigs on Big Major Cay

While visiting the pigs of Big Major Cay has been a wonderful retreat for many tourists and has left them awe-struck that pigs can swim, many people wonder just what the amount of traffic to the island is doing to the pigs. This question comes after seven pigs were found dead on the island.

Many reports have surfaced about how this might have happened and a popular report states that some tourists gave the pigs fatal doses of alcohol. Other reports state that the pigs ingested sand. This report appears promising since there were large amounts of sand found in the pigs stomachs by a veterinarian. This can happen when tourists throw the food in the sand verses hand feeding the pigs.

Travelers create a different dynamic for the pigs on a daily basis which is sure to contribute to an unnatural lifestyle for the pigs. Many tourists have shared their experiences in seeing the pigs mistreated by other visitors. Some say they have seen others riding the pigs as if they are horses. This can lead to a number of ways pigs can run a risk of incurring health problems too.

When a picture goes viral online suddenly everyone wants to be a part of it and get their own picture and that is exactly what happened in Big Major Cay. Now, everyone wants to take a pic with the pigs, feed the pigs or cuddle a cute little piglet. And really, wouldn’t we all? But how safe is it for troves of tourists to come to the island on an everyday basis?

Before becoming a popular destination spot for tourists the pigs were capable of finding their own food, naturally. Now, they depend more on tourists than they ever have before. Typically, the pigs would live in the forest but since gaining food from tourists coming in off boats at all hours of the day, the pigs hang out on the beach to await their next meal.

It is also a popular theory that the pigs are being harmed by the changing climate. This past January was unusually dry for the island. Since the ocean is full of salt, the pigs can’t drink it. So when their natural source of water dries up due to the dry spell of nature, it causes the pigs to run a higher risk of dying via dehydration.

Big Major Cay isn’t the only place where one can find swimming pigs. Due to its popularity, many people have started their own lucrative businesses (as many as 20) of creating venues for people to see swimming pigs. What a lot of people refer to as a copycat. Problem with this is the conditions in which these pigs have to endure. Not only from the hands of tourists who may or may not respect the pigs but from possible heat exhaustion, dehydration or lack of nutritional food.

As it stands right now, there are no laws that protect pigs so this is all completely legal. This makes it a very hard thing to create a successful case about the mistreatment of these pigs, even after 7 of them were found dead.

Locals of the island blame the excessive amount of tourism which only seems to be increasing. Sadly, if that’s true then there may be no pigs left on Pig Island in the very near future.

Because of the recent deaths of the pigs, volunteers posted signs to help educate visitors on how to treat the pigs, what to feed them, etc. They have also found ways to create a fresh water supply for the pigs as well as the ability to provide them with vitamins and food supplements.

But at the end of the day, with Instagram being such a market for great pics from people who love going viral, are the pigs any safer than before?

Pigs can be found at White Bay Cay Too!

Big Major Cay isn’t the only place to see pigs, they can be found at White Bay Cay too. White Bay Cay is just a 10-minute boat ride from the mainland. There is a debate about which cay is better when visiting the pigs but it’s always a good idea to travel to both places to see for oneself. Though, Big Major Cay is where the island pigs originated from.

Quick Pig Island Facts

  • No one really knows how the pigs got on the island
  • The pigs on the island are very friendly
  • Pigs don’t have sweat glands so the best way to cool off is for them to wallow in the mud
  • Just like humans and lots of other animals, pigs can dream and they sleep nose-to-nose with other pigs
  • There are about 20 of them on the island
  • A pig’s genetic makeup is very close to a humans genetic makeup
  • Mother pigs known as sows, have been known to sing to their young while they are nursing
  • There are no hotels or restaurants on the island
  • They constantly communicate with each other in more than 20 different vocalizations
  • Big Major Cay is known as Pig Island or Pig Beach
  • Pigs can swim
  • The pigs are very clever and start making their way to any boat they see in an attempt to get food
  • The pigs roamed freely on the island for years before they were discovered and went viral via a video
  • Adult pigs can run up to 11 mph

Chris spends his time photographing and taking video of wildlife and nature. He spent 2 years in high school studying forestry (Gainesville, FL) and is currently studying to be an Advanced Master Naturalist at the University of Florida. His mission is to inspire others to get outside and learn.