Bala Shark: Is This Gentle Giant Right For Your Aquarium

The Bala Shark is a relatively large freshwater fish native to Southeast Asia.

This beautiful looking fish would make a great addition to plenty of freshwater aquariums and its temperament is guaranteed to make it a great tank mate for your other fish.

Due to its size, we recommend that this fish is kept by aquarists who already have some experience in fishkeeping.

This article will cover everything you need to know to successfully keep the beautiful Bala fish; from how to create their ideal tank habitat to their diet and much more…

Category Rating
Care Level: Intermediate
Temperament: Peaceful
Color Form: Gray, Black and Yellow
Lifespan: Up to 10 years
Size: Up to 12 inches (25-30 cm)
Diet: Omnivore
Family: Cyprinidae
Minimum Tank Size: 150 Gallons
Tank Set-Up: Freshwater; Plants and Roots
Compatibility: Species Dependent

Overview

Bala Shark Appearance

The Bala Shark (Balantiocheilus melanopterus) is a member of the Cyprinidae family and is found in fast flowing rivers across Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Sumatra and Kalimantan.

They’re also commonly known as Silver Bala, Silver Shark, Tricolor Shark and Tri Color Minnows.

The only thing it has in common with a shark is its name which it gets because of the high dorsal fin and body type which looks like the dorsal fin of a shark. However that’s where the similarities end.

They are quite tolerant towards other small fish as long as they’re not small enough for him to swallow it.

The Bala Shark was first found by Pieter Bleeker in 1850; however it is now listed as an endangered species as their population has declined by around 50% in the last 10 years alone.

Since being declared endangered by IUCN in 1996, the number of species in the wild has continued to decrease, but the reason is still unknown. It has been suggested that it is due to contamination of their natural environment. Therefore fish that end up in aquariums are usually grown on farms and are not wild caught.

Typical Behavior

Whilst you might expect from their name that they take after the typical behavior of a shark, they don’t.

They are shoaling fish in the wild. So it is recommended that you keep at least 4 (ideally 6) together to give them some comfort.

Because of their size, they can be a bit greedy with food, so this is something to look out for if you are planning on keeping them together with small fish. Despite being quite active, they sometimes prefer to hide in plants and roots. They are a peaceful fish and will rarely cause trouble.

They are timid and easily scared, especially during the first few weeks in a tank. But don’t let that fool you; they are still active during most of the hours.

As they get more comfortable, they’ll become active swimmers and they have also been known to jump.

Bala Shark Appearance

Bala Shark Swimming

The Bala Shark has a distinctive single large standing dorsal fin – that’s what earned it the name.

It has a long elongated, torpedo like body. Their fins have yellowish stripes and black edging.

They have two ventral fins which are small and sometimes mono-colored; their anal fin is usually smaller than the ventral ones.

Its body is grey with a slight gradient towards the top, and a bit brighter at the bottom. Scales are very close to each other – that density combined with their size makes the light beautifully bounce off its body.

They have big eyes which are ideal for hunting and allows them to focus on large areas.

Bala Shark Size

In the wild Bala Sharks can grow up to 14 inches, but in the aquarium they tend to grow slightly smaller, and reach around 12 inches in length.

Habitat and Tank Conditions

Bala Shark Tank Conditions

The Bala Shark is a freshwater fish naturally found in the rivers and lakes of Southeast Asia. They prefer to live in clean fast flowing waters.

You will find them in the middle regions rather than the top or the bottom, as it spends most of its time swimming around.

The bottom of the water varies from one place to another, depending on whether they live in a river or a lake. But a mix of mud and pebbles are the most common substrate in the wild.

Tank Setup

As this fish enjoys fast flowing rivers, having a good filtration system in place is a must. The filter should be chosen depending on the tank size, however a powerful external one is highly recommended.

The acidity of the water should be in the range of 6.5-8 and the temperature should be kept around 77°F. They are not as sensitive to hardness but it’s still preferable that you keep it at 10-13 dGH.

Lighting can be provided by using a simple freshwater aquarium lamp; it should be left on for around 8-9 hours a day and no less than that. The ideal thickness of the substrate would be around 1 cm, the closest thing to their natural environment would be dark colored pebbles of different sizes.

Even though Bala are considered peaceful, they are still very active fish. Place a lid on top of your tank to stop them from jumping out. It is especially recommended to have a lid on during their settling in period for the first few weeks.

Because they are so active, having a lot of space for them to swim around is crucial. That means that putting a lot of rocks and roots isn’t necessary.

If you do want to include plants, Anubias is an ideal choice, and you can plant them around the edges so it doesn’t disrupt the middle section where they will be swimming.

What Size Aquarium do they need?

For this fish you’ll need to start off with at least 45 gallon tank, but continue to increase the volume as they grow.

The aquarium should be large and long, as they are active swimmers. An ideal tank would be at least 150 gallons and 5 feet (1.5m) in length.

How Many Can be kept per gallon?

Because of their large size and shoaling, you will need at least 45 gallons per fish.

Bala Shark Tankmates

Bala Shark Tank Mates

They are relatively peaceful fish and can be kept together with other peaceful large fish.

Other Bala Sharks, Corydoras, Rainbowfish, Gourami, Rasbora, Char (Salvelinus), Tetra, Minor Tetra would make good tank mates.

When choosing tank mates for this fish, the most important things to keep in mind are size and temperament. Other large Cyprinids are also good tank mate choices, but start off by placing only Bala Sharks together and begin diversifying your tank after they’ve settled in.

Do not add any carnivorous species such as large cichlids or small species such as neon tetras.

You also shouldn’t breed any fish in your community tank if you’re keeping Balas in there; they’ll most likely eat the fry.

Having other non-fish inhabitants such as shrimps is not recommended either as they are likely to be eaten. They will most likely be aggressive towards smaller shrimp, so it’s better to keep them separate.

Keeping Bala Sharks Together

Bala Shark can be kept together as long as there is enough space for them to swim around.

It is recommended that you keep at least 4 of them together. That will significantly decrease aggressive behavior.

What To Feed Them

Their natural diet consists of insects, small crustaceans, larvae, algae and plant parts. In the aquarium they happily feed on any type of food, both live and dried.

To help them grow to their full potential, use a high quality dry food for the core of their diet, such as flakes or pellets.

Their food can be diversified with bloodworms, vegetables and different plankton. Diced fruits and spinach help to fortify their health, so including them in the diet as well is worthwhile.

Due to their size, they also need lots of protein. This can be given by adding shrimp or other protein rich food. fTheir ideal feeding pattern is 2 or 3 times a day using small portions (they should take approx 2-2.5 minutes to finish).

They will be strong and healthy if fed correctly and there is no need for any additional supplements. Maintaining a balanced and diverse diet is more effective than any supplements. Diet is the key to making sure your fish stay healthy.

How to Care for Bala Sharks

Bala Shark

They are not particularly vulnerable to any one disease but are sensitive to water parameters; another reason to keep the water in the aquarium nice and clean.

Bala are sensitive to water they’re in so regular partial water changes are needed. Good filtration is also a must. During their settling in period, they can be especially sensitive, so it’s better not to disturb them during the first month.

Poor feeding (malnutrition, poor quality food) can also cause problems with their digestive system and can significantly decrease their lifespan. So again, giving them the right diet is the best way to make sure your fish stays healthy.

Like other freshwater fish, they are also susceptible to common fish diseases such as dropsy, ich and parasites.

  • Dropsy is a buildup of fluid inside the fish and can cause the fish to swell. This is usually a symptom that something else is going on such as a bacterial infection, or parasitic infection.
  • Ich is a common skin infection which produces small white spots on the fish’s scales. You’ll notice them scratching themselves against rocks and gravel.

There is usually a simple treatment for common fish disease, just make sure you watch them daily as you feed them to look out for anything that looks unusual.

To create the most comfortable environment for the fish and make sure it stays healthy, 25% to 30% of water should be renewed weekly.

This is a strong fish and with correct care can live up to 10 years in a tank.

Breeding

The breeding process is not tricky, but it’s important to keep their size in mind.

Before they start breeding, you’d need to prepare the fish for it, before puberty. Take several young Balas (around 4 months old) and keep them in a separate tank.

Telling the sex of a fish is a bit challenging, that’s why it’s recommended to keep at least 5 of them together. Male Bala Sharks grow slightly bigger than females, and female fish tend to have a rounder belly.

For spawning you should prepare an aquarium of at least 65 gallons with a temperature around 77°F. Remember that they need a lot of free space in the tank, so, it’s better to place any plants or decorations along the sides of the aquarium.

The bottom can be clear if you plan on keeping fry in there later. That way it’s much easier to look for spawn and clean the tank. Placing a special net on the bottom is not required but will make the whole process easier.

Spawning can be stimulated by gradually increasing the temperature to about 82°F. Any sudden changes in temperature or pH will have a negative effect on the breeding process. Spawning usually takes place early in the morning and usually lasts for a couple of hours. Afterwards the male fertilizes the eggs with milt.

Having good water flow at that stage is beneficial because the milt will be distributed more effectively. However after this, install an internal filter with a single sponge so your fry won’t get hurt.

The parents should then be removed from the tank. A couple of hours later the unfertilized white spawn can be removed.

Later on, 30-50% of the water can be renewed, the filter should be on and antibacterial solutions can be added. Finally, larvae appear in 24 hours and after 3-4 days they become fry.

They can be fed ciliates, and after 4 days can be given nauplii of artemia or cyclops. Keep in mind that they tend to grow at different speed, so that may require placing some of them in a different tank later on.

Is The Bala Shark Suitable For Your Aquarium? (Summary)

These fish are a great addition to most aquariums. Its simple yet stunning appearance will make any tank special.

However, the Bala Shark is a large fish and will require a large aquarium.

Other than that, they are relatively easy to care for. Breeding is also not difficult either but takes time and patience.

If you have other fish in your aquarium, chances are Bala can get along with them just fine.

Are you considering a Bala Shark for your aquarium? Let us know in the comments section below…

Robert Woods Portrait
Robert Woods is the creator of FishKeeping World, a third generation fish keeper and a graduate in animal welfare and behavior. He is also a proud member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America and the Nature Conservancy.

2 Comments

  1. Hi I have a Bala shark that’s around 12 inches I started of with 4 but I gave away 2 of them after about 3 months as they were getting picked on and eventually another so I’m only left with the one but a friend has asked if I can re home his mollies in my tank I’m not sure with the Bala and a fully grown pleco any advice please?

    • Hi Ben, I personally wouldn’t risk it. The mollies may become food for the Bala! Thanks, Robert

Leave a Reply to Ben Fletcher Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.


*