Shark symbolism and meanings have intrigued people since our distant ancestors first ventured into the open sea tens of thousands of years ago. Sharks exist in all five of the Earth’s oceans, as well as in some freshwater lakes and rivers. Thus, many ancient cultures who earned their livelihoods from the sea have creation myths about sharks.
But sharks have been around for far longer than humans. And modern-day sharks haven’t changed much from their early ancestors. In fact, the earliest known fossils of sharks date back to 450 million years ago – which means sharks were here on Earth even before trees existed! Perhaps the prehistoric nature of these apex predators is one of the reasons why they intrigue us so much.
In this post, we’ll dive into all aspects of shark meanings and symbolism, including shark spiritual meanings and the shark spirit animal, plus shark mythology and more.
Table of Contents
- What do sharks symbolize?
- Shark Mythology
- Hawaiian Shark Legends
- Sharks Legends of Fiji
- Shark Meaning in the Cook Islands
- Māori Shark Mythology
- Shark Meaning in Japan
- Sharks in Chinese Culture
- Sharks in Greek Mythology
- Shark Stories of the Bahamas
- Shark Symbolism in South America
- Shark Spirit Animal
- How do you know if the shark is your spirit animal?
- How You Can Help Sharks
What do sharks symbolize?
Shark Meaning: Protection
For inhabitants of the South Pacific islands, the shark was seen as a guardian and protector. You can read about some of these island creation stories later in this post. When the shark is your spirit animal, you have a fierce protector on your side. If you feel vulnerable or unsure about a situation you’re going into, summon the shark. You know they don’t mess around!
A number of ancient cultures believed that sharks served as guides for fishermen. Not only did sharks show the best places to catch fish, they were also believed to guide off-course ships and show them the way home.
Summon the shark spirit when you need help making a decision or figuring out a course of action to take. If you are unsure of a situation, continue to gather more information. The shark knows they have to keep swimming to absorb oxygen from the water into their gills. You may not have all the answers you seek right now, but the shark spirit tells you – keep moving forward.
Shark Symbolism: Focus
As the self-help guru Tony Robbins says, “Where focus goes, energy flows.” Or, as another famous saying of Tony’s goes, “Most people major in minor things.”
The shark epitomizes focus. They remind you to be crystal clear about your objectives and what you want in life. By focusing on your objectives, you won’t get distracted or thrown off course by the things that don’t really matter. Focus, focus, focus.
Sharks are commonly viewed as aggressive animals. But in reality, as long as they’re fed, they can be quite docile. Yet, as they course through the seas, whether or not they’re hungry, they put other sea creatures on alert because they have a certain reputation.
We all know there are two ways to develop a reputation and gain authority. One way is to earn it, by seeking knowledge, gaining skills, and becoming an expert. In this way, you earn the respect and admiration of others by building a reputation as an authority in your field.
Another way to gain authority is through negative means, such as fear tactics, falsehoods, cheating, and even abuse of power. In such a case, it’s a fake authority, because given the option, people would prefer not to follow you.
The shark’s authority is gained by the latter. They are feared and even deadly, and this is how they’ve gained authority in the ocean.
If the shark spirit is resonating with you, it could mean that you need to examine your conscience and consider why you want power in a given situation. If you have to be a shark about it, is it truly worth it? Perhaps there’s another area where you should be directing your energy, where you can become an authority by earning it? This dynamic can play out in work situations or even romantic ones.
The shark spirit asks you the question: What are you actually hungry for and does it truly feed your soul?
The shark reminds you that if you don’t feed your soul, you could become a creature who others fear vs. one they gravitate to. Remember to fill yourself up with positive situations, people, and even media. And always make sure the places where you’re swimming are healthy environments. In this way, you can become an authority over yourself, which is the best authority of all.
Opportunity and Adventure
Sharks are also symbols of opportunity and adventure. These fast-moving fish have been known to travel for hundreds, if not thousands, of miles. The shark spirit reminds you to continually seek out adventures and new “fishing grounds” for opportunities.
Sharks such as the great white, the mako, and the whale shark must keep moving in order to get oxygen from the water and to stay alive.1 The shark spirit reminds you that new opportunities are everywhere, but you won’t find them unless you keep exploring.
While there’s still debate about how long ago our ancient ancestors first ventured into the open ocean, archaeologists theorize that it was over 100,000 years ago.2 This was probably when our distant ancestors first got a glimpse of sharks up close, and thus the same time that stories about these ocean creatures were born.
Just a few hundred years ago, early seafarers told stories of mythical, dragon-like monsters with big teeth that they saw while at sea.3 These beasts were in all likelihood sharks. While some people, like the Europeans seafarers, feared these mysterious beasts, others viewed them with much more reverence, including the inhabitants of the South Pacific islands.
Hawaiian Shark Legends
In fact, the ancient Hawaiians had multiple shark deities. One of the most revered Hawaiian shark gods is called Kāmohoaliʻi. Like some of the Native American spirit animals, Kāmohoaliʻi had the power to shapeshift into different entities, namely different types of fish.
The Hawaiians also saw Kāmohoaliʻi as a spirit guide who could guide lost ships home with a shake of his tail. Some believe he even guided the first Hawaiian explorers from the mainland to the islands.4
The Hawaiians also believed that if a family member passed away, the family could send the body to sea and their loved one would transform into a shark. In a spiritual ceremony, the holy leader, or kahuna, would tell the family members that if they saw a shark with certain markings that were similar to their loved one’s clothing, they should be sure to feed that shark extra fish. The family would also trust that this shark would help guide them in their fishing expeditions.5
Sharks Legends of Fiji
The people of Fiji also have an important shark god. Dakuwaqa was a half shark and half man deity who aided fishermen in finding the best catch. In addition, Dakuwaqa would protect fisherman from sea monsters and other dangers while at sea.6
Shark Meaning in the Cook Islands
The inhabitants of the Cook Islands had a version of the Fijians’ Dakuwaqa who was called Avatea. Avatea was a creator god who ruled the sun and moon.
Ina and the Shark
Another popular legend from the Cook Islands is the story of Ina and the Shark. Ina was a lovely maiden who fell in love with Tinirau, the god of the ocean. Tinirau lived on a remote island and asked Ina to visit him. A shark came to the shore and told Ina that he would take her to the island. So, Ina climbed on his back, carrying some coconuts with her in case she got hungry on the voyage.
Halfway there, she did get hungry, so she banged the coconut on the shark’s head to crack it open. Angry, the shark shook her off his back. He was about to devour her, when Tekea, the king of all sharks, rescued her and carried her the rest of the way to Tinirau’s island. To this day, all sharks have a dent in their heads because of Ina’s coconut.7
Māori Shark Mythology
Like other island inhabitants of the South Pacific, the Māori People of New Zealand saw the shark as a trusted guardian and guide.
One legend tells the tale of a sea journey where the voyagers’ canoe is almost swallowed by a giant sea monster named Te Parata. However, a massive white shark comes to their rescue. To this day, the Te Arawa confederation of the Māori see the shark as their guardian.8
Shark Meaning in Japan
In Japanese legends, there is a goblin named Tengu who has a long snout. Tengu is also a shapeshifter who can instantly move to different places. Above all, Tengu hates boastfulness and arrogance, especially when it comes from Buddhist of Shinto monks. So, Tengu is a tormentor of sorts, and he is associated with the goblin shark (Mitsukurina owstoni), which is called tengu-zame in Japanese.
Sharks in Chinese Culture
Chinese myths related to sharks have tragically put them at risk for extinction. Centuries ago, sharks were difficult for fishermen to catch, and thus when they were caught, it was considered a special event. Shark fin soup originated in the 14th century Ming dynasty when the hard-to-catch fish was served on special occasions for the royalty. By the 18th century, however, even non-royals were consuming shark fin soup as a special delicacy.
The allure of the elusive fish eventually made its way into more folklore where practitioners of Chinese medicine claimed that eating shark fin would boost sexual potency and prevent disease, among other things – none of which are medically or scientifically proven. Today, overfishing and the consumption of shark fin soup is the single biggest threat that sharks face.9
Sharks in Greek Mythology
In Greek mythology, there is the story of Lamia, who was the daughter of Poseidon. Zeus falls in love with Lamia, but unfortunately, Zeus’ wife Hera learns of the affair and steals Lamia’s two children. This loss of her children drives Lamia to madness. So, and out of pity, Zeus turns her into a shark-like sea monster who can devour other people’s children.10
Shark Stories of the Bahamas
In the Bahamas, there’s a legend about a mythical creature named Lusca, who is half-shark and half-octopus. Lusca is a fearful creature who lurks in caves, especially in the famous Blue Hole in the Bahamas. Lusca is so powerful that her breathing creates currents and whirlpools. However, Lusca is not all evil because she’s also responsible for protecting fish and ensuring that they’re well-fed.11
Shark Symbolism in South America
The Legend of to Nohi-Abassi
In South America, the Warao Indigenous People tell the story of the constellation that many in North America call Orion’s Belt. However, according to the Warao, the sword hanging from Orion’s belt is not a sword at all, but the severed human leg of a man named Nohi-Abassi.
Not all people love their mother-in-laws, and Nohi-Abassi was one of those people. In Nohi-Abassi’s case, he decided to kill his mother-in-law by luring her to the ocean, where he had asked a shark to wait and eat her. However, as things go, the shark he had been talking to was actually his sister-in-law in disguise. Instead of eating her mother, she bit off Nohi-Abassi’s leg, and now it resides in the sky.12
Shark Spirit Animal
When the shark is your spirit animal, you have been given the ability to swiftly go after what you want in life. As apex predators, sharks move through the ocean’s depths with fierceness and authority. Thus, the shark power animal reminds you that once you’ve committed to something, providence will move through to make it happen. You just have to laser focus on what you want to achieve.
If a shark makes himself or herself known to you, whether in real life or through art, the media, or elsewhere – pay attention. There are no coincidences. Your spirit animal serves as a guide, bringing you messages from the supernatural world to help guide you during your human experience on Earth.
According to Native American traditions, you don’t necessarily choose your spirit animals. Instead, they choose you. Your spirit animals might come to you in a vision quest or in another powerful experience that affects the course or your life and, thus, your soul’s journey.
You may be a shark aficionado already, or you might only have a passing curiosity about them. Either way, I encourage you to learn about these ancient beings because they have much to teach you.
How do you know if the shark is your spirit animal?
You may already know that the shark is one of your spirit animals. But if you’re still wondering, consider the questions below. As you read this post, you’ll learn more about sharks and the insights they can provide about your life. And if you’re curious about other animals who might be your spirit guides, you can take UniGuide’s spirit animal test.
Questions to consider:
- Were you especially interested in sharks as a child?
- Has a shark made himself or herself known to you, whether in art or the media, or in another way that riveted your attention?
- Do you feel a connection to sharks, and do you experience a feeling of wonder when you see them or hear about them?
- Has a shark or sharks entered your dreams?
- Are there stories, books, or movies that involved sharks that had a strong impression on you and stayed with you?
- Have your friends, family, or other people described you as laser-focuses and goal-oriented?
- Do you feel confident about what you want out of life?
- Do you like to travel and take in new experiences?
Only you can truly know if the shark is one of your power animals. If the shark spirit has made an impact on you, by all means explore what these awe-inspiring animals have to teach you!
How You Can Help Sharks
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 2.4 percent of shark species are listed as “Critically Endangered.” Another 3.2 percent are listed as “Endangered,” and 10.3 percent are listed as “Vulnerable.” Still another 14.4 percent are listed as “Near Threatened.” In all there are 470 species of sharks, and their main threat is us, namely from overfishing.13 If sharks are not hunted directly for their fins, they are often killed as by-kill in other commercial fishing operations. If you care about sharks, please do what you can to protect them. Here are some organizations that are working on shark protection and conservation: