The pigs swim and pose for food, but this is only a formality. They expect — nay, demand — to be fed, and they aren’t used to disappointment. When I took too long to open the cooler, the spotted sow hooked her front legs over the edge of our small boat and tried to push herself up. The boat lurched downward and rocked from the weight. I found the bread just in the nick of time — the second spotted pig, inspired by the first, had also gotten her leg over the same side of the boat.
I tossed bread crusts and leftover lettuce into their eager, giant mouths. I was close enough to see the pigs’ sun-bleached eyelashes and speckled snouts. Their light ears were bright pink with sunburn and bug bites. These sweet creatures were domesticated livestock turned wild turned tame again. They backed away from the boat while they oinked and chewed, swimming in a circle before coming around for more. As the harsh sun beat down, we anchored the boat and jumped in. We were swimming with pigs in paradise, and it was surreal.
We had arrived on Staniel Cay from Great Exuma the day before by way of a tour boat that takes guests sightseeing. Andrew Clarke, the captain of our Four C’s Adventures tour boat, grew up in the Exumas. He regaled us with stories of the islands — the celebrities, the film locations, the recent developments in tourism and, of course, the famous pigs.
When the large speedboat stopped in the deeper water near Big Major Cay, Clarke encouraged the more adventurous tourists to jump in for a closer look. Seeing pigs swim is a rare sight, but swimming freely with them in the ocean is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Last March, Clarke and his brother Stephen sailed to Big Major Cay to discover a troubling sight. The sows on the island had just given birth. The piglets rarely come onto the beach, but this time they had followed their mothers straight into the water once the boat arrived. The piglets couldn’t swim.
“I told everybody, ‘Get off the boat and grab a pig!’ ” Clarke recalled. The Clarkes and several lucky tourists jumped into the chest-deep water and carried the piglets to shore, where they oinked and wriggled until their mothers came back.