Considerable global attention has focused on the plight of sharks and the implications for ocean health. Scientists point to the importance of sharks for healthy ecosystems and the consequences of their disproportionate removal; yet legal and management responses vary considerably. In some states, negative human-shark interactions have led to shark culls and swimming bans, and have prompted public fears about future activities that might attract species closer to coasts and communities. In other countries, sharks are respected, conserved and utilized only as a non-consumptive marine-based tourism resource. This article argues that culture plays an important role in the variety of legal responses to the conservation and management of sharks. By examining the development of shark sanctuaries across the Indian and Pacific Ocean island states, this analysis highlights the legal approaches taken, and the varying socio-cultural values that have influenced these responses. Understanding the role of culture will remain important as these laws mature, because it may affect implementation, compliance, and ultimately the achievement of conservation outcomes.