Pi Patel is named "Piscine Molitor" by his parents after a swimming pool in France. He changes his name to "Pi" when he begins secondary school, because he is tired of being taunted with the nickname "Pissing Patel." He is raised a Hindu, but at 14 years old, he is introduced to Christianity and Islam, and starts to follow all three religions. Eventually, his family decides to sell their animals and move to Canada due to political concerns in India. Pi?s family embark on a Japanese freighter to Canada carrying some of the animals from their zoo. A few days later, the ship meets a heavy storm and Pi believes to hear an explosion; Pi is accidentally the only one who makes it onto a lifeboat?the freighter together with crew and Pi?s family sinks. After the storm, Pi finds himself in a small lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, a spotted hyena, an injured zebra, and a mother orangutan who lost her child in the shipwreck.
As Pi strives to survive among the animals, the hyena is the first to succumb to hunger, and begins to eat the injured zebra alive, eventually killing it. To Pi?s distress the hyena also kills the orangutan after it had a fight with the Hyena. After killing the orangutan the Bengal tiger, who is named Richard Parker, kills and eats the hyena. Pi is left as the only other survivor. Pi finds food and water supplies on the boat, and builds a raft for himself to stay at a safe distance to the tiger. As the tiger becomes more and more hungry, Pi begins fishing for fish like dorados and flying fish to ensure the tiger has enough to eat. After many days at sea Pi realizes that he can no longer live on the tiny raft and that he must train Richard Parker if he were to live on the lifeboat.
After an indeterminate time at sea, the pair encounters a mysterious island, seemingly constructed of edible algae supporting a forest and a large population of meerkats. Following a period of recuperation, Pi finds a human tooth inside the fruit of a tree and becomes afraid of the island after discovering that the algae is carnivorous, he doesn?t allow himself to leave without Richard Parker. The lifeboat eventually reaches the coast of Mexico and Richard Parker escapes into the nearby jungle without looking back at Pi, which hurts his perception of their friendship.
While telling his story to a reporter, the adult Pi (now father and husband in his 50s) mentions that the Japanese freighter company wanted to hear his eyewitness account about the sinking of the freighter. They do not believe his story, so he tells them a different one in great detail?with humans on the lifeboat instead of animals. This story tells him being adrift on a lifeboat with his mother, a sailor with a broken leg, and the ship?s cook, who killed the sailor and Pi?s mother and cut them up to use as bait and food. Parallels to Pi?s first story lead the reporter to believe that the orangutan represents his mother, the zebra represents the sailor, the hyena represents the cook, and Richard Parker is Pi himself. Upon asking the reporter which story he likes better, the reporter tells him that the one with the animals is the better one, which is the story the freighter company took as the truth.