Sharks are high-profile taxa and often polarise communities and stakeholders. However, constructive debate around shark issues has been stymied by the many stakeholders with conflicting or unclear objectives: Government Agencies with multiple objectives (sustainable management, conservation, public safety); fishers (commercial and recreational) that target certain species of sharks, or try to avoid interactions; tourism operators; indigenous peoples with cultural links; conservation groups; other ocean-users and members of the general public who may be shark-conservationists or shark-cull advocates. The confusion appears partly due to various stakeholder groups using the collective noun ‘sharks’ when discussing issues. The use of ‘sharks’ confuses debates in a way similar to other totemic taxa (e.g. whales) where unique attributes of multiple species have been combined. In the case of ‘sharks’ the situation is exacerbated by the large number of species (globally >500), the diversity of values attributed to species and the ability of stakeholders to have multiple values (e.g. fishers who regard sharks as desirable target species and as depredators of target species). We argue that ‘sharks’ extend the super-species concept, reducing clarity and hindering the development of more broadly acceptable policies. To improve this discourse we suggest that stakeholders define ‘sharks’ in discussions and reports with species-by-area descriptors (e.g. white-sharks in Western Australia); or as a minimum, on a defined group-by-area basis (e.g. sharks that support eco-tourism in South Africa; commercially important species of sharks in southern Australia), so the species in focus is (are) clearly defined, allowing future debates to be more constructive and support the development of more widely-acceptable policies.