After a day spent navigating the keys and cays of the Exuma Island chain, our boat stops abruptly in front of a nearby island. The captain points to the shore, where a cluster of pigs runs along the coast, their little feet flying through the sand. Soon they're in the water, cutting through the surf towards our boat, snorting, grunting, and splashing. But the sound is not mean or threatening – it's actually kind of cute.
Natives of the island, the pigs are actually expert swimmers, and I watch them tread with their heads and snouts above the water. At times, they seem to be smiling, but I'm not fooled: it’s food they're after. Though wild, these porkers have made the correlation between boat and food, and they promptly emerge out of the woods and into the water whenever they hear the noise of an engine approaching the island.
Luckily for them, we've brought food by the bags – lettuce, french fries, carrots – whatever we could find. The great thing about pigs? They aren’t picky eaters. I toss a head of lettuce into the water, and watch the pig try to bite it without success, like a kid trying to grab onto a beach ball in the pool. Others chomp down easily on the rest of the items, snorting happily in anticipation of the next batch.
But the show doesn't end there; after the feeding, it's time to get into the water. That’s right – you can (and should) swim with them. They won’t hurt you, though they will be curious as to whether you’ve got anything tasty in your pockets. They swim up to me with purpose, and the size of them suddenly registers. These are full-grown, well fed pigs. You’ll want to avoid their churning legs, but they have no intention of causing harm.
Treading water, I’m able to circle around one and run my hand over its back, feeling the wet hair in between my fingers. They don’t seem to mind the contact, and they continue to investigate me, their snouts held high and active, their breathing heavy. At times I think they’re running out of gas, but they don’t quit; the stamina of these guys is truly astounding. Even as I begin to tire, their legs just go on kicking.
I swim to shore, and they follow, walking behind me on the beach. When my friend brings a bag of food ashore, we run down the beach, letting it all fall out behind us (the ensuing chase was fortunately caught on video).
The pig-inhabited island goes by a few names. It’s officially called Big Major Cay, but Pig Island, or Major Cay, are frequently-used alternatives. It’s the only island the pigs live on, and unless you have your own boat, hiring a captain or taking a tour is the only way you’ll ever reach it. Big Major is located near Staniel Cay, which sits about halfway between Nassau and Great Exuma in a chain of 360 islands known collectively as the Exuma Islands.
Since the price of such an excursion can be a drawback for some, be sure to shop around the different tour operators and see what else you’re getting along with the trip to see the pigs. My captain, Pat of Exuma Water Tours, was recently nominated for an award in the Bahamas for his great work as an ambassador and media guide, and I can personally vouch that he will show you a good time. On our tour, we also got to swim with nurse sharks right off the pier (in the wild, no cage or tank or anything), visit an island of endangered iguanas (that we ironically fed French fries), and zip through a beautiful string of 360+ islands.