What Do Shark Tattoos Mean?

Side Body Shark Tattoo @queenie_tattoo_ist

The misunderstood creatures of the deep, sharks have been swimming in the oceans for around 400 million years, long before dinosaurs were even around. While these apex predators don’t have bones so skeletons aren’t left behind when they die, fossilized shark teeth have been found.

For years, people have feared sharks. Movies have depicted these creatures as vicious attackers that thirst for human blood. This is far from the truth.

“Only about a dozen of the more than 300 species of sharks have been involved in attacks on humans….humans are not part of their normal diets. Sharks are opportunistic feeders, but most sharks primarily feed on smaller fish and invertebrates,”

National Ocean Service
Color Shark Tattoo @homoo_tattooer

A shark biting a human happens when a shark is curious or confused – it may see a person splashing around and want to investigate. Unfortunately, due to their physiology, an investigation can sometimes lead to a person getting hurt. 

As they’ve been around for a long time, ancient ocean-side cultures have come to revere the shark’s ability to survive.

“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

From Polynesian tribal tattoos to traditional American sailor tattoos, sharks have become a popular tattoo choice because of the symbolism attached to them. 

Meanings Behind Shark Tattoos

Realistic Mini Great White Shark Tattoo @queenie_tattoo_ist

Reincarnation And The History of Hawaii

In ancient Hawaiian culture, it is said that a shark guided the first Hawaiian’s canoes to the island that they would settle.

“Hawaiʻian chants tell of the shark’s assistance in the first migration to Hawaiʻi. A huge shark named Kamohoaliʻi, the brother of the volcano goddess Pele guided the double hull canoes to Hawai’i,”

Maui Information Guide

Sharks continued to hold significance to the peoples of the island. It was believed that a departed ancestor could come back in the form of a shark, known as ʻaumakua. 

Therefore, a shark tattoo done in the traditional Hawaiian style can be deeply meaningful and be a tribute to the ancient culture and one’s ancestors

Tribal Shark Tattoo @estigmatofilia_tattoo

Alertness And Stamina 

Sharks don’t have eyelids, so they are always able to monitor the creatures around them. But, then don’t they sleep? Sharks don’t sleep like humans and other creatures do, as they have to keep moving in order to breathe. However, they do have restful periods. 

Sharks are also known to have amazing stamina. For example, a great white shark can cover almost 2,000 miles in a single month. 

So, a shark tattoo can symbolize alertness and always being ready for action, as well as being willing to go the distance

Mini Detailed Shark Tattoo @papermoontattooco


According to the WWF, from over 500 different species of shark, 143 are vulnerable to critically endangered. Many shark species are under threat for a variety of reasons, including global warming, unethical fishing practices, and hunting. 

Due to these shocking statistics, sharks have become a poster animal for conservation initiatives. 

So, a shark tattoo can have a strong conservation tilt as well as highlight a love for the ocean and the need to protect it.  

Killer Whale And Shark Thigh Tattoo @guccidayoff

Sixth Sense

Sharks tap into a sixth sense when they’re hunting. This sense helps them hone in on prey during the last stage of an attack. This sense comes from the ampullae of lorenzini which are found on the snouts of sharks. With this, they can sense the electric fields emitted by animals in the surrounding water.

A tattoo of a shark can therefore represent your intuition – your own sixth sense as a human, also known as a ‘gut feeling’. 

Shark Foot Tattoo @art_tattaow

Protection And Guidance 

Polynesian traditional tattoos are made up of different symbols. Shark teeth are one of these symbols. Simplified shark teeth in this tattoo style are created using basic triangles. Zealand Tattoo says,

“They represent protection, guidance and strength as well as ferocity; however, they are also symbols of adaptability in many cultures.”

If you want a tattoo with more detail, you could opt for a realistic shark jaw tattoo. However, the placement choice for this tattoo can have a big impact. Saved Tattoo recommends the space around the knee or elbow as the perfect spot for a shark jaw tattoo as the movement of these areas can work with this tattoo. 

Traditional Sailor Shark Tattoo @debbiejonestattoos


A meaning that many people attach to sharks is fearlessness. Sharks don’t seem to back down, and will attack multiple threats if necessary.

Sharks feature a lot in traditional American sailor tattoos as during the sea voyages sailors undertook, they came across these kings of the deep often. Sailor Jerry, the pioneer of the old school sailor tattoo style, explains,

“A shark on your arm says you’re willing to stand your ground. It says you’re not about to become someone else’s seafood.”

Simple Shark Jaw Tattoo @ink.dust

Seizing Opportunities

If you don’t want to get a full shark tattoo, you could opt for a shark dorsal fin cutting through the water. This minimalist tattoo idea can be meaningful to people who focus – or want to focus more – on taking charge in their life and making the most of opportunities. 

“The shark’s fin cuts through the water seamlessly. Choosing to get the outlines of the shark’s fin on your skin can represent this same determination sharks have when swimming towards their prey,”

Authority Tattoo

A great placement option for this mini tattoo is the ankle, as it’s a small area that won’t leave much blank space around the design.

Shark Fin Tattoo @tay.inks

Sharks are fascinating creatures that have gotten a bad rap. They’re not human hunters – far from it. They are ancient creatures that are an essential part of the ecosystem. They’ve swam the ocean for millenia, and have picked up deep symbolism that humanity can resonate with.

From courage and protection, to stamina and intuition, sharks are definitely a worthwhile theme to explore for a meaningful tattoo.

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