The Silky Shark is a species of requiem shark, family Carcharhinidae. The large size and cutting teeth of the silky shark make it potentially dangerous, and it has behaved aggressively towards divers. However, attacks are rare as few humans enter its oceanic habitat. Silky sharks are valued for their fins, and to a lesser extent their meat, hide, liver oil, and jaws. Because of their abundance, they form a major component of commercial and artisanal shark fisheries in many countries. Furthermore, their association with tuna results in many sharks being taken as bycatch in tuna fisheries. Although slow-reproducing like most other sharks, the wide distribution and large population size of the silky shark was once thought to buffer the species against these fishing pressures. However, data now suggest that silky shark numbers are declining around the world, which prompted the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to reassess its conservation status from Least Concern to Near Threatened in 2007.
Slim and streamlined, the silky shark has a fairly long, rounded snout with barely developed flaps of skin in front of the nostrils. The circular, medium-sized eyes are equipped with nictitating membranes (protective third eyelids). Short, shallow furrows are present at the corners of the mouth. There are 14–16 and 13–17 tooth rows on either side of the upper and lower jaws respectively (typically 15 for both). The upper teeth are triangular and strongly serrated, with a notch in the posterior edge; they are erect at the center and become more oblique towards the sides. The lower teeth are narrow, erect, and smooth-edged. The five pairs of gill slits are moderate in length.
The dorsal and pectoral fins are distinctive and help to distinguish the silky shark from similar species. The first dorsal fin is relatively small, measuring less than a tenth as high as the shark is long, and originates behind the free rear tips of the pectoral fins. It has a rounded apex, an "S"-shaped rear margin, and a free rear tip about half as long as the fin is tall. The second dorsal fin is tiny, smaller than the anal fin, with a drawn-out free rear tip up to three times as long as the fin is tall. There is a narrow dorsal ridge running between the dorsal fins. The pectoral fins are narrow and falcate (sickle-shaped), and particularly long in adults. The anal fin originates slightly ahead of the second dorsal fin and has a deep notch in the posterior margin. The caudal fin is fairly high with a well-developed lower lobe.
The skin is densely covered by minute, overlapping dermal denticles. Each dermal denticle is diamond-shaped and bears horizontal ridges leading to posterior marginal teeth, which increase in number as the shark grows. The back is metallic golden-brown to dark gray and the belly is snowy white, which extends onto the flank as a faint lighter stripe. The fins (except for the first dorsal) darken at the tips; this is more obvious in young sharks. The coloration quickly fades to a dull gray after death. One of the larger members of its genus, the silky shark commonly reaches a length of 2.5 m (8.2 ft), with a maximum recorded length and weight of 3.5 m (11 ft) and 346 kg (760 lb) respectively. Females grow larger than males.
Primarily an inhabitant of the open ocean, the silky shark is most common from the surface to a depth of 200 m (660 ft), but may dive to 500 m (1,600 ft) or more.Tracking studies in the tropical eastern Pacific and northern Gulf of Mexico have found that cruising silky sharks spend 99% of their time within 50 m (160 ft) of the surface, and 80–85% of their time in water with a temperature of 26–30 °C (79–86 °F); the pattern was constant regardless of day or night. This species favors the edges of continental and insular shelves, often over deepwater reefs and around islands. Its range extends farther north and south along continental margins than in oceanic waters. On occasion, it may venture into coastal waters as shallow as 18 m (59 ft).
The silky shark is an opportunistic predator feeding mainly on bony fishes from all levels of the water column, including tuna, mackerel, sardines, mullets, groupers, snappers, mackerel scads, sea chubs, sea catfish, eels, lanternfishes, filefishes, triggerfishes, and porcupinefishes. It may also take squid, paper nautilus, and swimming crabs, and there is fossil evidence of it scavenging on whale carcasses.