Smalltooth Cookiecutter Shark, Isistius brasiliensis (Quoy & Gaimard 1824)

Other Names: Cigar Shark, Cookiecutter Shark, Cookie-cutter Shark, Luminous Shark, Smooth Cookiecutter Shark

A Smalltooth Cookiecutter Shark, Isistius brasiliensis, from off southern Queensland, June 2017. Source: Rob Zugaro / Museums Victoria. License: CC by Attribution-NonCommercial


A small pelagic bioluminescent shark that preys on marine animals much larger than itself. Cookiecutter sharks have a modified mouth and pharynx, and highly specialized teeth for gouging out plugs of flesh in surprise attacks on pelagic fishes and marine mammals - this is called kleptoparasitism.

A sudden attack by a cookiecutter shark on a long-distance swimmer crossing a channel between two islands in Hawaii was described by Honebrink et al. (2011).

VIDEO of a cookiecutter shark off Kona Hawaii.

Video of a Cookiecutter Shark bite on a dolphin.

Video about cookiecutter sharks.

The Cookiecutter Shark at the Digital Fish Library

Cookiecutter sharks use their  their sharp slender upper teeth, fleshy lips and muscles in the pharynx to suck onto and grip their prey. They bite into the flesh with their lower jaw teeth and spin around, carving out a deep, circular plug of flesh.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2018, Isistius brasiliensis in Fishes of Australia, accessed 25 May 2024,

Smalltooth Cookiecutter Shark, Isistius brasiliensis (Quoy & Gaimard 1824)

More Info


Widespread in tropical to temperate waters worldwide, from surface waters to well below 1000 metres. The Smalltooth Cookiecutter Shark usually occurs off continental and insular slopes at deep to midwater depths between 85 and 3500 m. The species is counter-illuminated, and undertakes vertical migrations towards surface waters at night.


Vert 81–89 (60–66 precaudal) 

Body slender, cigarshaped, abdomen lon; snout short, bulbously conical, preoral length 6–7% TL. Mouth with expanded sectorial lips; teeth strongly differentiated between upper and lower jaws; upper jaw teeth slender, thorn-shaped, smooth-edged, without lateral cusps, curved outward near corners of mouth. Lower jaw teeth very large, erect, bladelike, symmetrically triangular with smooth to slightly serrate edges.

Two spineless nearly equal-sized dorsal fins, the first set far back on the body, originating just before pelvic-fin origin; caudal fin large, almost symmetrical.

Ventral surface (excluding the dark collar) covered in a network of tiny photophores that produce a greenish bioluminescent glow on the underside. 


Reaches 56 cm TL


Dark brown above, paler below, with a prominent brown collar-like band around the gill area; fin-tips with lighter or translucent posterior margins; caudal-fin lobes dark with a pale or translucent margin.

The lower surface, except for the brown collar, is densely covered in minute photophores - so that the shark is counterilluminated. Widder (1998) suggests that the dark patch works as a lure to attract fast-swimming animals such as tunas, swordfish and dolphins.


Carnivore - feeds by removing plugs of flesh from unwary prey (usually sharks, rays, bony fishes and marine mammals). Cookiecutter sharks are considered to be ectoparasites by some researchers. The use their fleshy lips and specialized muscles in the mouth and throat to suck onto their victims - then twist off a plug of flesh with their large serrated lower teeth and small hook-like upper teeth.

Cookicutter sharks usually prey on large epi- and mesopelagic fishes and marine mammals, creating circular concave wounds. Victims include whales, dolphins, seals, pelagic bony fishes such as tunas, snake mackerels, billfishes, sharks, rays and marine turtles ... and even a human swimmer in Hawaii.


Cookiecutter sharks are live-bearers (aplacental viviparous), and females give birth to litters of at least 9 pups that develop inside egg cases and hatch within the uterus. The pups are born at about 14 cm TL. Males mature at about 38 cm TL, females at about 40 cm TL.


Of no interest to fisheries, although occasionally taken as bycatch in commercial trawl, but usually too small to be caught.


IUCN Red List: Least Concern


Most shark species replace their teeth singly as they get damaged or lost. Cookiecutter sharks have their teeth interconnected at the bases, and they replace the whole set of teeth as a single unit.
The cookiecutter shark has reportedly attacked the rubber sonar dome of a submarine.

Similar Species

The Largetooth Cookiecutter Shark, Isistius plutodus, differs in having fewer and larger teeth, and the second dorsal-fin base more than twice the length of the first dorsal-fin base. The Largetooth Cookiecutter Shark also lacks the dark coloured band around the body and dark tips on the caudal fin.

Species Citation

Scymnus brasiliensis Quoy & Gaimard 1824, Voyage autour du Monde 1: 198. Type locality: Brazil.


Bray, D.J. 2018


Australian Faunal Directory

Smalltooth Cookiecutter Shark, Isistius brasiliensis (Quoy & Gaimard 1824)


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Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37020014


Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Depth:0-3500 m

Feeding:Carnivore - a kleptoparasite

Habitat:Mesopelagic, epipelagic

Max Size:56 cm TL

Species Maps

CAAB distribution map