Human Ecology

, Volume 46, Issue 5, pp 717–726 | Cite as

Sea Swallowers and Land Devourers: Can Shark Lore Facilitate Conservation?

  • Frédéric TorrenteEmail author
  • Tamatoa Bambridge
  • Serge Planes
  • Jean Guiart
  • Eric G. Clua


Polynesians’ detailed observations of shark behaviour encompass the notion of a divinity, the fleeting image of a sky god, as well as potential source of food and valued tools. Due to prevailing cosmogony, sharks benefited from being a taboo species, historically limiting their exploitation. We examine how the reputedly fierce warriors of ‘Anaa (an atoll in Tuamotu archipelago, French Polynesia) came to be symbolically identified with a marine predator, being called “Parata,” the vernacular name of the oceanic whitetip shark Carcharinus longimanus. Both sharks and indigenous cultures are currently under threat in the East Pacific and we propose that an understanding of these sacred relationships could be used to help protect them.


Pacific Ocean cultures Tuamotu archipelago Polynesian religion Oceanic whitetip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus) Zoomorphism Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) 



This study has benefitted from the kind support of the cultural association of Putahi-haga-no-Ganā, in particular Joana, Teuanui and Maxime Hauata, Léonie Gatata and Rosalie Aumeran and the council of ancients of ‘Anaa atoll.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre de Recherches Insulaires et Observatoire de l’Environnement (CRIOBE)USR3278 EPHE-CNRS-UPVDPapetoaiFrench Polynesia
  2. 2.Maison des Sciences de l’Homme du PacifiqueUSR2003 CNRS- Université de la Polynésie françaiseFaaaFrench Polynesia
  3. 3.Labex CORAIL, Laboratoire d’ExcellenceCRIOBE Moorea and PerpignanMooreaFrench Polynesia
  4. 4.Department of EthnologyNational Museum of Natural HistoryParisFrance

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