Mano – Shark


Mano – Galapagos Shark, Requiem Family.

Biology Connections – Ike Noeau:

Mano, or sharks, are cartilaginous fish (meaning their skeletons are made of cartilage and not bone) with 5 to 7 gill slits on each side of their long, streamlined bodies. Their mouths are on the underside (ventral side) of their body and they have a full set of fins–dorsal, pectoral, pelvic, anal, and caudal. Unlike other fish, sharks lack gas-filled swim bladders, meaning they have to keep swimming to prevent sinking to the bottom. For this reason, many sharks are bottom-dwelling, and midwater sharks gain buoyancy from their large oily livers. With keen senses, sharks can hone in smells from as far as ¼ of a mile away, can sense thrashing animals through vibrations in the water, and, at a closer range, can sense the electromagnetic fields emitted by all organisms. Unlike other fish, sharks don’t have scales but instead have tiny embedded dermal denticles, a bit like little teeth, coating their skins. In fact, shark teeth are enlarged and modified versions of these dermal denticles which sit in the jaw and are constantly replaced on a sort of conveyor belt.

Sharks can give birth to either eggs or live young but typically are slow reproducers. Almost all sharks are carnivores. Although smaller bottom-dwelling sharks subsist on molluscs, shellfish, and other invertebrates, some sharks, like the Tiger Shark and Great White Shark, prey on larger animals like seals, large tuna, turtles, and even the occasional unfortunate human. Despite their reputation, sharks’ slow reproductive rate and the fact that they are overfished by humans means many shark populations around the world have declined sharply and sightings are rare.  


Hawaii is home to around 36 species of shark, most of which live far from land and in deep waters. The Hawaiian sharks in the Requiem family, including Gray Reef, Galapagos, Blacktip (mano pa’ele), Whitetip Reef (mano lalakea), and Tiger Sharks (niuhi), are characterized by being sleek, powerful swimmers which are sometimes seen near reefs and coastal waters. Whale Sharks, another species and family of shark found in Hawaii, are the largest fish in the world (growing to 49ft) and can live to 100 years old. Hammerheads, another family known as mano kihikihi in Hawaiian, are characterized by wide hammer-like heads which help provide lift as they swim forward and also carry an array of electroreceptor organs to help locate prey. In many ways, their heads resemble metal detectors, which they swing from side to side as they swim along the ocean floor to detect food. Although some fear and caution of sharks in Hawaii is justified, fatal shark bites are extremely rare and sharks are a key predator species which we must work to protect.  

Cultural Connections – Mo’olelo:

Sharks, or mano, are an important part of Hawaiian culture. Sharks are common ‘aumakua, or personal gods and deified ancestors, to families on all Hawaiian islands except Kaua’i. This meant in exchange for treating a mano with respect (feed them, sometimes even petting them, refraining from killing them), a family will be given advice and wisdom in their dreams from sharks. This relationship is symbiotic, and an ‘aumakua shark will not harm, and sometimes will even protect, a Hawaiian family. Some mano are considered the reincarnation of deceased family members.

Hawaiian legend describes the story of Nanaue, the son of the Hawaiian Shark King, Ka-moho-aliʻi, who lived in Waipio Valley on Hawai’i Island. As Shark King, Nanaue’s Father was able to change into any fish, and often changed into a shark to guide lost ships back home. He is believed to have guided the original Polynesian explorers to the Hawaiian islands. When Nanaue was born, his Father warned that he should not be allowed to eat meat or he would be overwhelmed by a thirst for blood. As he aged, Nanaue grew a shark mouth on his back, but this was kept hidden by clothing. One day, Nanaue’s Grandfather gave him some meat to help make him a warrior, but from then onwards Nanaue had an insatiable appetite for flesh. He began spending his days in the sea, where he shape-shifted into a mano and preyed on swimming people. As soon as the local people found out, they tried to kill Nanaue. He escaped and swam to Maui, where he kept his secret to himself and married a chiefess. On Maui, however, he couldn’t resist his desires and ate a young woman in front of many people. After almost being killed by the residents on Maui, he escaped again, this time to Molokai island. The people of Molokai, however, heard the rumours of Nanaue and killed him before he could eat anyone else. 

Ka-moho-ali, the Shark King and father of Nanaue, leading a Polynesian ship to the Hawaiian Islands. 

Hawaiians have a saying about the ever-powerful mano, which are often compared to chiefs. Although one can read it and sense fear, it is designed to offer respect and in awe to sharks (Interview with Parley Kana),

Küpau wau i ka manö ka manö nui ka manö nui küpau wau i ka manö.
I am finished to the big shark, all consumed by the big shark, I am finished.


The Kumulipo, translating to “Beginning-in-deep-darkness,” is the Hawaiian creation chant that describes the origin of life and traces the ancestry of the Hawaiian people. With more than 2,000 lines and 16 wā (sections or time periods), the Kumulipo describes the creation of hundreds of plants, fish, birds, other animal life, and humans. In traditional Hawaiian communities, certain priests and elders would recite the entire Kumulipo, mostly during the Makahiki (New Year) Season. To read an English translation of the entire Kumulipo, follow the link

Mano are featured in line 149 of the Hawaiian creation chant alongside the Manybar Goatfish,

Hanau ka Mano, hanau ka Moano, i ke kai la holo,
Born is the Mano [shark], born the Moano [goatfish] in the sea there swimming