Swordfish missing circle-shaped chunks of flesh hauled in by fishers. What bit it?

Fishermen in Australia have landed the swordfish covered in numerous strange circular wounds following the shark’s “pack attack.”

Tony “TK” Walker and his crew were fishing off the coast of northeastern Australia of the Coral Sea when they reeled in the massive fish. They quickly recognized the bites as bites from a cookie-cutter shark.

“The cookie cutter sharks have had a go at this guy,” Walker, an ex-commercial fisherman from New Zealand, wrote on Facebook on 19 July. “Must’ve been a pack attack, they made more than a snack out of him, that’s for sure.”

The swordfish ( Xiphias gladius) was alive when fishermen brought it aboard their vessel. However, the bites were bloody, and the fish died shortly afterward. In a video posted on Walker’s YouTube channel, the wounds were not old, indicating that the attack happened minutes before the swordfish was caught and resold.

While he often catches fish that cookiecutter sharks bite, Walker said he’d never witnessed one so severely mauled. “We see these bites daily, and often the fish will have three or four fresh bites and plenty of healed or semi-healed bites,” Walker stated to Newsweek. In forty years of fishing, Walker said he had “never seen an attack like that.”

A cookie-cutter shark swam beneath a sixgill shark with a blunt nose ( Hexanchus griseus) with an oval-shaped bite mark on its bottom. (Image credit Alymy/Pally Stock Photo)

Cookiescutter sharks ( Isistius brasiliensis) are among the strangest sharks found in the waters. They’re named for their jaws shaped like a cookie cutter, which they use to hold on prey and spin to sift out a chunk of flesh, as per the Australian Museum.

The sharks that look alien are only 20 inches (50 centimeters) in length, yet they are a threat to creatures of any size, most often around the coasts and coastline of Australia and Tasmania. They have been known to attack more giant animals than themselves, including Great White Sharks ( Carcharodon carcharias), orcas, whales ( Orcinus orca), and even humans. In 2009, the first and only known shark attack on a person occurred near the shores of Hawaii in the middle of the ocean, when an ocean swimmer who was long distance was attacked in the chest and left a calf.

The wounds were still fresh when fishermen pulled the fish out, and it appeared sharks ate it while advancing. (Image credit from TK Walker (screenshot taken from YouTube))

“They race in while the fish is cruising along and just bite a chunk of meat out,” Walker, who started the business known as TK Offshore Fishing, said in Newsweek. The sharks then run away with their catch without giving their victim a moment to react, he said. “I would imagine it would be like mosquitoes buzzing around for the large swordfish and tuna.”

The Australian Museum says cookie-cutter sharks can also draw their prey closer by appearing like smaller fish. Their bellies are covered with photophores, organs that produce light that renders them unnoticeable to animals swimming beneath them. A dark-colored collar without photophores stands out against the light shining across the water’s surface from above. It could appear like a tiny fish to predators and tempt them to attack. The shark is then ambushed and snags on the giant predator to take an entire piece of flesh.


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