Fish are incredible creatures that have swam the depths of the oceans and survived in rivers for millenia.
Not only are they ancient, but there are so many different varieties of fish – from the vibrant shades of the koi fish, to the mysterious and dangerous shark. These extraordinary water dwellers make for excellent tattoo inspiration for their colors as well as their symbolism.
Different types of fish have not just stayed in the oceans and rivers – many have swam their way into the folklore and mythology of different cultures from around the world.
This can be seen in the shark-gods of Hawaiʻi; Matsya, the fish avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu; and one persistent koi fish in China that made it up a waterfall and was rewarded by the gods by being turned into a golden dragon.
This positive view of fish is also present in the Ancient Chinese art of Feng Shui. According to Feng Shui principles, a fish represents wealth and prosperity because the actual word in Chinese for fish translates to “abundance”.
For many people living in coastal locations, fish are a necessity for survival,
“People who live in coastal towns or countries such as the Japanese see fish in a very different way. Fish in these areas are about fertility, wealth, success and abundance. Fish is how these people feed themselves for the most part, so they have a lot of respect for them,”Ink Me Tattoo
If you are intrigued by the idea of getting a fish tattoo, keep reading as we delve into some of the most popular and meaningful designs you can take inspiration from for your next tat.
1. Koi Fish Tattoos
The story of the koi fish turning into a dragon in Ancient Chinese folklore is a tale of persistence even when everyone else has given up.
A school of koi fish swam together through crazy currents and made their way upstream until they reached a waterfall. Some of the fish could not handle the challenge, so they allowed the current to take them back downstream.
Just to spite the fish, local deities made the waterfall even steeper in an effort to turn it into more of a challenge for the remaining fish. This worked as the remaining fish cut their losses and turned back – all but one.
“After one hundred years of swimming upstream, one koi fish eventually reached the top of the waterfall. The gods recognized the persistence of this koi fish and turned it into a golden dragon, a symbol of power and strength, hence the waterfall became known as the Dragon Gate,”Ocean Conservancy
If you are looking for a tattoo that represents perseverance and reaching your goals, you can’t get more meaningful than a koi fish tattoo. When it comes to the placement of your koi fish tattoo, you can get it tattooed in such a way as to denote swimming upstream.
2. Gold Fish Tattoos
When it comes to the meaning behind a goldfish tattoo, the clue is in the name – gold! That’s right, goldfish represent wealth and financial success.
Not only that, but a goldfish is a great representation of duality – this is because they have fiery colors while also being connected with water.
When you get a goldfish tattoo, many people understandably want the full brightness of the yellow, gold, and orange shades to be present in the design. However, it is important to know what you are getting yourself into when it comes to colorful tattoos.
“While red, yellow and green tattoos can look vibrant and striking when first created, they are, unfortunately, the ones that tend to fade at the quickest rate,”Authority Tattoo
Inexperienced tattoo artists can insert ink too shallow into the skin, or not add enough ink into the area, which can result in any color fading much quicker than it normally would if tattooed by a professional.
So, if you want your colorful goldfish tattoo to last, go to a professional tattoo artist and then take care of your tattoo.
The longevity of a tattoo is increased when the tattooee follows the aftercare instructions given by the tattooist, keeps their healing tattoo out of the sun, and continues to lather on sunscreen whenever out and about (this is because the rays of the sun break down tattoo ink particles).
3. Shark Tattoos
Sharks can be incredibly scary creatures – just one bite can do a lot of damage. However, these fish are about so much more than just razor sharp teeth. In fact, there are cultures that revere these solitary swimmers of the deep.
“A shark is considered the king of water animals in many cultures, much like the lion is for the land animals. According to Fiji, a shark God protects fishers at sea. In other cultures, like Māori, the shark is a symbol of superior power and victory,”Saved Tattoo
In Polynesian cultures, tattooing is a sacred artform and includes depictions of important aspects of Polynesian life and spirituality. A traditional tribal shark tattoo can symbolize courage and guidance.
Outside of traditional tribal tattoos, a shark tattoo can represent survival and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances – after all, the shark has been swimming in the ocean as an apex predator for over 400 million years.
Sharks are always alert and ready to spring into action, so a tattoo of one can mean focus, stamina, and hard work.
If you do not want to get a whole shark tattooed, you could opt for a tattoo of shark teeth – this can represent protection against enemies.
4. Tribal Fish Tattoo
Fish tattoos are often done in tribal patterns, as fish are one of the themes in ancient tribal tattoo designs. However, before you decide to get a tribal tattoo, it is crucial to note that this artform is extremely culturally significant and needs to be treated with respect.
Each depiction and pattern has a certain meaning, so do your research thoroughly prior to getting tattooed.
“In Polynesian tribes the fish represents abundance and prosperity, as well as fertility and everlasting life. The ancient Celts also revered the fish as a symbol of knowledge and intuition, representing the natural psychic ability we each possess to determine what lies ahead and within the hearts of others,”Next Luxury
A fish tattoo can be the ideal way to mark a triumph and a reminder that perseverance does pay off.
5. Seahorse Tattoo
Yes, these tiny creatures are considered to be fish!
Due to small tiny fins on their back, they are not actually great swimmers, but they are extremely proficient hunters.
They flow through the water majestically and sneak up on their food with a 90% success rate (the success rate of a shark is only at 50%!). Because of this, a seahorse tattoo can be a symbol of prowess despite the unsuspecting aesthetic.
“…seahorses carry symbolism that carry some meanings including protection, friendliness, generosity, sharing, patience, contentment, perception, and persistence.”Tattoo SEO
The seahorse is also a meaningful option for a couple tattoo. Most wild seahorses are monogamous – they mate for life – and they swim in pairs with their tails connected.
6. Fish Skeleton Tattoo
A fish skeleton tattoo is on the more unpopular end of the spectrum when it comes to fish designs, but it still has intense meaning behind it.
Do you remember the Biblical story about the loaves and the fishes? It is said that with just five loaves of bread and two fishes, somehow Jesus managed to multiply this enough to feed a whole crowd of people.
As such, a tattoo of a fish skeleton can symbolize resourcefulness and faith that something amazing can come from very little.
This tattoo design can also serve as a reminder to be grateful and not to take things for granted. Afterall, a fish skeleton is not useless – it is useful in fishing and creating rich compost.
7. Clown Fish Tattoo
The beauty of clown fish definitely became more well known after the success of the animated movie, Finding Nemo. This became such a loved film, that today some people still look at clown fish at the aquarium and call them “nemos”.
This led to the phenomena, The Nemo Effect – or did it? There were rumors and articles circulating that after the release of the 2003 movie, people wanted to own their own clown fish resulting in the immense decline in wild clown fish populations.
According to Earth.com, this was an exaggeration,
“While animal movies can impact viewers, the researchers found that people are not driven to buy pets but rather seek out information. Animal films even have the power to increase conservation efforts.”
A clown fish can have a spiritual connotation, as Spirit Animals explains,
“..the Clownfish symbolism reminds us that you should not control others. Instead, try controlling everything in your own life.”
If you’re looking for the perfect, bright mini fish tattoo, the clown fish may just be the way to go. This tiny fish is the perfect tat for the wrist or ankle, and can be meaningful for people who are in the conservation sector or want a reminder to let go a little bit.
8. Mermaid Tattoo
Yes, I know, a mermaid is not technically a full fish, but it is a half of a fish so it is still worth putting on this list, especially since the folklore and superstitions surrounding merfolk are so fascinating.
One such interesting tale comes from Brazil. According to Amazonian legend, there was once a young warrior named Iara who was revered for her skill and strength. She was far better than her brothers, and because of this, they kindled a jealous hatred for their sister.
Evently, this flame burned so bright that Iara knew her life was in danger, so she fled to the Meeting of the Waters, the merging point of Rio Solimões (the Amazon River) and Rio Negro.
She was found and thrown into the river in an attempt to drown her. This was unsuccessful, as a fish of the river saved her and turned her into a beautiful mermaid.
Now, she lures men who come too close to the water with her beauty and voice, and takes them into the river with her.
This feminist narrative can translate beautifully into a tattoo of strength and empowerment, with a little bit of horror and revenge mixed in.
“The mermaid is often seen as a strong female figure, one that is free, independent, and self-directed. Due to the mermaid’s connection with the sea, this tattoo design can symbolize nature, intuition, birth or rebirth, and creation…Mermaid tattoos with mirrors may represent self-value or self-worth,”Tat Ring
Along with the whole luring sailors and other men into their watery midst, a mermaid tattoo can also represent persuasion and sexuality.
There is so much variety under the waves of the ocean and deep into the rivers on the land. Legends permeate these waters, resulting in symbolism that can still have an impact on humanity today.
Whether you are looking for the perfect couple tattoo to symbolize your commitment to your partner or your perseverance of overcoming an obstacle, or perhaps you are searching for the ideal design that will capture your bright nature or something to remind you of your power, chances are you will find a fish in the water that is just right.