Research 4: Ecology of cookiecutter sharks

When most people think of predatory sharks, images of white, tiger, bull or hammerhead sharks often come to mind.  However, one of the most mysterious species of shark reaches a maximum size of 50 cm.  The cookiecutter shark is found in open ocean and has one of the most fascinating predatory strategies.  Somehow cookiecutters are able to remove very smooth ‘plugs’ of tissue from animals much larger than themselves.  Nothing is safe from cookiecutters as scars have been found on almost all large marine animals including orcas, white sharks and even submarines! Very little is known about the ecology of these small sharks due to their elusive nature.  They even have an economic impact, as bite scars lower the price of pelagic fish that sell at auctions. We use bite scars on prey to infer some of the behavior of cookiecutter sharks, but our major goal is to catch and track individuals to find out how exactly they prey on animals much larger than themselves.

Collaborators: Dr Christopher Lowe (Cal. State Long Beach), John O’Sullivan (Monterey Bay Aquarium), Dr Mauricio Hoyos-Padilla (Pelagios Kakunja A.C.).


Hoyos-Padilla M., Papastamatiou Y., O’Sullivan J., Lowe C. 2013. Observation of an attack by a cookiecutter shark (Isistius brasiliensis) on a white shark (Carcharodon carcharias). Pacific Science. 67: 129-134

Papastamatiou Y, Wetherbee B., O’Sullivan J., Goodmanlowe G., Lowe C. 2010 Foraging ecology of cookiecutter sharks (Isistius brasiliensis) on pelagic fishes in Hawaii, inferred from prey bite wounds. Environmental Biology of Fishes. 88: 361-368

A free swimming cookiecutter shark. Photo: J. Lambus


A cookiecutter shark bite on a seal at Guadalupe Island, Mexico. Photo: Y.Papastamatiou