Cookiecutter shark

The Cookiecutter shark, Isistius brasiliensis, also known as the cigar shark or luminous shark, is a small rarely-seen dogfish shark.

Anatomy and morphology

The Cookiecutter sharks often glow green and grow up to 20 in (50 cm) long. The underside of the shark is bioluminescent, glowing a pale blue-green that matches the background light from the ocean’s surface that serves as camouflage to creatures beneath it. However, a small non-luminescent patch appears black deceiving the shark’s prey, smaller predatory fish (like tuna), into thinking the shark is an even smaller fish. When the predatory fish tries to strike at the shark, the shark strikes back, scoring itself another meal. This is the only known instance whereby a bioluminescent lure is created by the absence of luminescence (contrast with anglerfish).


Worldwide in deep water. The Cookiecutter shark has been found at depths of about 3,300 ft (1,000 m) below the surface of the ocean.

Feeding ecology

Their name comes from the habit of removing small circular chunks of flesh from whales and large fish. It is hypothesized that the shark seizes its much larger prey with its jaws then rotates its body to achieve a highly symmetrical cut. They are considered a parasite.

Life history

Cookiecutter sharks reproduce through placental viviparity in the same way as Great White sharks. Little else is known about their reproduction.

Interaction with humans

There has been little interaction between humans and the Cookiecutter shark. However, there was an incident in which a Cookiecutter shark took a bite out of the rubber sonar dome of a US Navy submarine, causing damage to the housing, and forcing the submarine out of service until the rubber could be replaced.

Illustration by Dr Tony Ayling