The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Mysterious wave of death strikes the Bahamas’ famous swimming pigs

A mysterious wave of deaths recently struck Big Major Cay, the uninhabited Bahamas island famous for its tourist-friendly swimming pigs.

Up to half of the pig colony died and the bodies were tossed into the sea, according to reports from over the weekend. Early investigations could not identify an explicit cause of death.

Wayde Nixon, a Bahamas man who brought the pigs to the island decades ago, suggested that tourists killed the animals with a lethal diet. With unrestricted access to the pigs, visitors had been seen giving the animals junk food as well as booze.

“We had the government vet in there [and] examined them all thoroughly,” Nixon told the Nassau Guardian. Seven or eight pigs died, he said, leaving about 15 alive. The ones that survived appeared to be healthy.

Kim Aranha, president of the Bahamas Humane Society, indicated to the Nassau-based newspaper Tribune 242 that there were fewer pigs remaining on the island than initially reported.

“I understand there are seven or eight pigs still alive,” Aranha said, though she said this was about equal to the number of deaths. Veterinarians collected samples of the dead pigs, but it was unclear how long a laboratory analysis would take.

“It’s really a mystery as to what killed these beautiful animals. I believe most of the carcasses were in the ocean,” Aranha told the Tribune. “It could just be a horrible accident where they ate something poisonous. It could be malicious but I don’t really see why someone would go out of their way to hurt those lovely animals.”

She added that there were “silly sailors” who were known to try to get the pigs drunk. But tour operators out of Nassau treated the animals with respect, she said.

Part of the Exuma island chain, Big Major Cay, also known as Pig Beach, is in the Caribbean Sea to the southeast of Nassau. Until the deaths, the cay had been billed as a sort of porcine paradise. The pigs dog-paddled through the crystal sea, drank from the island’s spring of fresh water and got fat on a steady supply of food brought by tourists, who visited the island by the boatload.

But selfie-happy tourists were not the only indignities that the four-legged residents survived in recent years. The pig colony endured an invasion of bikini-clad reality show contestants during an episode of “The Bachelor.” The pigs had a brief cameo in the 2013 music video for “Timber,” the Pitbull dance-pop number featuring Ke$ha. Fueled by celebrity visits, a feature on NBC’s “Today” show and a beach made for Instagram, the pigs’ popularity expanded.

So, too, did their origin stories. Ancient mariners had left the pigs behind on the island, some said. The cache of would-be pork was forgotten, then rediscovered. Or perhaps the beasts were the only living remainder of a crashed pirate ship. That foreigners had accidentally released pigs into the Bahamian wilds was not an alien narrative. Feral boars on the Great Inagua Island, to the south of Pig Beach, were descendants of pigs housed in a mid-1700s French garrison.

The truth, according to the “Today” show, was that the swimming pigs were the result of a more recent fable. When fears about the cataclysmic Y2K millennium bug reached a fever pitch in the late 1990s, two farmers, fearing that food supplies would crash along with computers, bought the pigs and raised them on the island.

After the pigs were discovered dead over the weekend, Nixon, one of the two farmers, lamented that the Pig Beach phenomenon had spiraled out of control.

“Right now it’s blowing out of proportion with people, anybody bringing food there, anybody doing what they [want to] do,” he told the Nassau Guardian. “We have people coming there giving the pigs beer, rum, riding on top of them, all kind of stuff.”

The Bahamas government has now barred tourists from feeding the pigs. Nixon sought support from the Bahamas’ Ministry of Tourism to restrict visitors from getting too close to the pigs. Establishing a safe viewing distance would still allow tourists to photograph the famous swimming pigs, he said, while protecting the animals that remain.

More from Morning Mix

The special way hundreds of storm chasers honored ‘Twister’ star Bill Paxton

‘I just feel blessed’: Mahershala Ali becomes first Muslim actor to win an Oscar

Video shows Tucson police shoving 86-year-old woman to pavement