The study, published in the journal Pacific Science, says swimmers entering the cookiecutter's range of open ocean tropical waters may be considered prey, a concern as warm summer weather attracts more people to the ocean.
Cookiecutter sharks are small, with adults reaching only about 2 feet in length, but their unique jaws are designed to scoop out a piece of flesh, leaving victims with a crater-like wound, a UF release said Friday.
"Not only is it painful, but it presents a difficult circumstance for recovery in the sense that there has to be plastic surgery to close the wound and you have permanent tissue loss," said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File maintained on the UF campus. "It's not as scary as 'Jaws,' but it's very different from any other kind of attack we have in the International Shark Attack File because of the size of the shark and the modus operandi."
When feeding, the shark bites its victim and then rotates to remove a plug of flesh, "kind of like using a melon-baller," Burgess said.
In March 2009 a cookiecutter shark, Isistius brasiliensis, attacked a long-distance swimmer attempting to cross the Alenuihaha Channel from Hawaii to Maui, biting him on the left calf.
Cookiecutters inhabit deep tropical waters and their bites have been found on many deep-sea animals including tuna, whales, dolphins and swordfish, researchers said.