Bala shark feature

Bala Sharks 101: Essential Care Tips and Advice

Bala sharks are a species of freshwater fish that come from Southeast Asia.

Even though they are called sharks, they are actually part of the Cyprinid family, more specifically the carp family.

Sporting silver bodies, fins with black edges, and a shape similar to sharks. People often buy young Bala sharks in pet shops, as they look cute and small but it’s important to know that they can grow up to 35 cm long and need a large aquarium. Being schooling fish they thrive most swimming with their own kind to feel safe.

Now having 4-6 Bala sharks will require a huge tank, a good 4-6 feet in length at least. 50 litres just isn’t gonna cut it even for 1.

They are peaceful fish that eat both plant and animal foods. They do well in groups and can be an interesting addition to a big community tank if it’s set up properly.

Bala shark

Bala Shark Facts & Overview

Bala Shark FactDetails
Scientific Name:Balantiocheilos melanopterus
Other Names:Silver Sharks, Tricolor Sharks, Shark Minnows
Care Level:Moderate to Hard
Native Region:Southeast Asia
Lifespan:10–15 years in optimal conditions
Size:Up to 35 centimetres (14 inches)
Minimum Tank Size:Size: 680 (180 gallon+) litres for a group of fish
Compatibility:Compatible with a variety of similarly-sized species

Origin and Distribution

Bala sharks originally come from Southeast Asia. In the past, you could find them in the tropical rivers and freshwater areas of Thailand, Borneo, and Sumatra. These rivers often have water that moves at a medium to fast speed, which is why they like similar conditions when they’re kept in aquariums.

It’s pretty interesting to note that even though Bala sharks are bred all over the world for aquariums nowadays, they’re actually considered to be in danger of disappearing from their natural homes. Too many of them have been caught for the pet trade, and the places they live have been messed up, so there aren’t as many of them in the wild as there used to be.

People are now trying to protect and save the wild ones that are left. But even though they’re in trouble in the wild, you can still find them pretty easily in pet stores and aquariums. This is because people have been successful at breeding them.

Bala Shark Size & Lifespan

Bala Sharks are impressively-sized freshwater fish, particularly when compared to many other species commonly kept in home aquariums. Once fully grown, they typically reach lengths of up to 35 centimetres.

As for their lifespan, with proper care and an appropriate environment, they are known to live for around 10 years. However, in some instances where they are provided with optimal water conditions, a balanced diet, and a stress-free environment, they have been known to live up to 15 years.

rainbow shark and bala shark

Bala Shark vs Other Aquarium “Sharks”

Rainbow Shark: Rainbow Sharks are significantly smaller, typically growing up to 15 centimetres. While Bala Sharks are schooling fish, Rainbow Sharks are more solitary and territorial, especially in smaller tanks. Both can live together but some Rainbow Sharks care little about size and have been know to try their luck with a Bala Shark.

Red Tail Shark: Like Rainbow Sharks, Red Tail Sharks are smaller, reaching around 15 centimetres. They have a similar body shape to Bala Sharks but are black with a red tail. Red Tail Sharks can be more aggressive and territorial, especially towards their own kind. They may not be the best choice for a community tank with other bottom-dwelling fish.

Black Shark: These fish can grow even larger than Bala Sharks, reaching up to 60 centimetres. They are black or dark grey, with a high dorsal fin like Bala Sharks. However, Black Sharks are not well-suited to most home aquariums due to their large size and aggressive, territorial nature.

Bala Shark Characteristics and Appearance

Colours, Patterns and fins

Bala Sharks have silver streamline bodies, almost yellow looking fins with black edges and a forked tail. They have a relatively small mouth, making them not keen on eating other fish.

Sex Differences

Identifying the sex of a Bala Shark can be a bit tricky due to their minimal sexual dimorphism, meaning males and females look relatively similar. However, there are a few subtle differences aquarists can look for to determine their gender.

Females tend to be slightly larger and have a fuller, more rounded belly compared to males, particularly noticeable when viewed from above. This feature becomes more evident during the breeding season when females may carry eggs.

On the other hand, male sharks are usually somewhat smaller and have a more streamlined, slender body. It’s worth noting that these differences might not be obvious until the fish reach sexual maturity, which can take 2-3 years.

Bala shark with other fish

Bala Shark Behaviour and Temperament

Despite their imposing name and size, Bala Sharks are peaceful, schooling fish that prefer to live in groups of five or more. Their social nature means they do not do well in isolation or with aggressive tankmates. In saying that, some can be considered semi-aggressive due to being able to hold their own against other aggressive fish. It’s probably a good idea not to house them with territorial fish.

They are highly active swimmers, often seen zipping around mid to top levels of the aquarium. They enjoy open spaces where they can stretch their fins and explore.

Interestingly, they are known to be jumpy, especially when they’re young or stressed. They may leap out of the water, which is why it’s advisable to have a well-fitted lid on your aquarium.

Redfin Bala shark

Redfin Bala Shark

Also known as the Red-Finned Cigar Shark or Red-Finned Shark Minnow, is similar looks to the Bala Shark except they have red fins and a black stripe down their bodies

While they resemble the Bala Shark in size and shape, they’re actually more closely related to loaches. They can grow up to 15 cm (6 inches)

Bala Shark Tank Setup

Tank Size and Setup

  • Tank Size: Ensure you have a tank with a minimum capacity of 120 – 180 gallons (680 litres) to provide ample swimming space.
  • Substrate: Use a fine-grained substrate to mimic their natural riverbed habitat. Sand or small, smooth gravel is ideal.
  • Filtration: Install a powerful filter that can handle the tank’s capacity. Canister filters or hang-on-back filters are generally good options. Bala Sharks prefer moderate to strong currents, similar to their natural river habitats.
  • Heater: Use an aquarium heater to maintain a stable water temperature.
  • Tank Lid: A secure lid is a must, as they are known to be jumpers, particularly when they are young or stressed.
  • Maintenance: Schedule regular water changes and tank cleanings to maintain water quality and prevent the build-up of harmful substances.
Bala shark tank

Water Conditions and Lighting

Bala Sharks prefer specific water conditions that mirror their natural tropical river habitats.

  • Temperature: Bala Sharks thrive in water temperatures ranging from 22°C to 28°C. Consistency is key to avoid stress.
  • pH Level: A slightly acidic to slightly alkaline pH, between 6.0 and 8.0, is ideal for these fish.
  • Hardness: The water hardness should be kept between 10 and 13 dGH.
  • Water Cleanliness: . Regular water changes and a good filtration system are essential.
  • Lighting: They are not picky about lighting. Moderate lighting is generally fine, but they can also adapt to a range of lighting conditions, as long as there are darker areas in the tank to provide shelter. Using floating plants can help achieve this effect.

Decoration and Compatible Plants

Decorating your tank appropriately can significantly boost their welfare, providing cover, spawning areas, and simulating their natural riverine habitat. Here are some recommendations:


  • Caves and Rocks: They appreciate places to retreat and investigate, making caves or rock arrangements beneficial elements in the tank design.
  • Driftwood: Driftwood serves as an excellent hiding spots.
  • Ceramic Pieces: Non-toxic ceramic pieces can also offer refuge and create intriguing exploration areas for your fish.

Compatible Plants:

Live plants that mimic their natural environment are the best choices

  • Stem Plants: Robust stem plants such as Vallisneria or Hygrophila can tolerate the active swimming nature of the sharks and provide valuable cover.
  • Carpeting Plants: Carpeting plants like Dwarf Hairgrass or Java Moss create a visually appealing, sturdy ground cover that withstands the dynamic movement.
  • Floating Plants: Floating plants such as Water Lettuce or Frogbit offer shade and security, and they help regulate light levels in the tank.

Remember to opt for durable plant varieties, as the swift swimming nature of Bala Sharks might disrupt more delicate species.

Bala shark rocks

Bala Shark Care

Bala Shark Diet and Feeding

Being omnivores, feeding them is quite straightforward.

  • Commercial Foods: They will readily eat high-quality flake food, pellets, or granules designed for omnivorous fish. These should form the staple of their diet.
  • Live or Frozen Foods: For variety and to ensure a balanced diet, supplement with live or frozen foods like brine shrimp, daphnia, bloodworms, and tubifex worms. These are particularly beneficial during breeding.
  • Vegetables: They also enjoy blanched vegetables such as peas, spinach, and zucchini. These can help provide necessary fibre and prevent constipation.
  • Feeding Schedule: Feed your Bala Sharks 2-3 times a day, only giving what they can consume in a few minutes. This approach reduces waste and maintains water quality.
Bala shark feeding

Keeping an Eye Out for Illness

Bala Sharks, like any other fish, can be susceptible to various illnesses if not given appropriate care. Recognising the signs of disease early on can make a significant difference in their recovery.

Behavioural Changes: Be alert to changes in your Sharks behaviour, such as loss of appetite, lethargy, or unusual swimming patterns. These could be early signs of illness.

Physical Changes: Regularly examine your them for physical changes. Look out for spots, patches, discolouration, lesions, abnormal growths, or changes in body shape.

Parasitic Infections: They can be prone to parasitic infections, such as ich (white spot disease), where small white spots appear all over the fish’s body.

Bacterial and Fungal Infections: Monitor for signs of bacterial or fungal infections. These might present as cottony growths, redness, sores, or ulcers.

Stress-Related Diseases: Bala Sharks are susceptible to stress-related diseases. Stress can be caused by poor water conditions, inadequate diet, or incompatible tankmates.

Preventive Measures: Maintain good water quality, feed a balanced diet, and ensure appropriate tank conditions to prevent many common illnesses.

If you notice any signs of illness, it’s crucial to seek advice from a vet or an aquarium professional. Early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve your Bala Shark’s chances of recovery.

Bala shark tank mates

Bala Sharks Tank Mates

  • Other Bala Sharks: Keeping multiple Bala Sharks together is ideal. They enjoy the company of their own kind and tend to be less stressed in groups.
  • Large Tetras: Species like Congo Tetras or Bleeding Heart Tetras can be good companions due to their similar size and peaceful nature.
  • Barbs: Large, non-aggressive barbs such as Tiger Barbs or Rosy Barbs can cohabitate well.
  • Rainbowfish: Their active nature and size make them suitable tank mates.
  • Gouramis: Larger species of Gouramis can also do well with them.
  • Loaches: Certain types of loaches, like Clown Loaches or YoYo Loaches, can coexist with Bala Sharks.

Incompatible Tank Mates

While Bala Sharks are peaceful and can coexist with a variety of fish, some species are best avoided due to differences in size, temperament, or habitat needs. Here are some examples:

  • Small Fish: Species like Neon Tetras or Guppies can be seen as prey due to their small size.
  • Slow or Calm Fish: Their active nature can stress out slower or more tranquil fish such as Discus or Angel Fish.
  • Aggressive Fish: They should not be kept with aggressive species like Cichlids, which can bully or injure them.
  • Territorial Fish: Species such as Betta Fish, which guard specific areas of the tank, may not tolerate the active, schooling nature of Bala Sharks.
  • Large Predatory Fish: They should not be housed with large predatory fish like Oscars or Arowanas, as they could see Bala Sharks as food.
  • Rainbow Sharks: Caution is advised. While Rainbow Sharks are generally peaceful, they can be territorial, especially in smaller tanks. If you decide to keep them together, ensure the tank is large enough to prevent territorial disputes. As always, observe their interactions closely to ensure harmony in the tank.
Bala shark breeding

Breeding the Bala Shark

Breeding Bala Sharks can be quite challenging, especially in a home aquarium, due to their size and specific requirements. Remember, breeding can take patience and time.

It may not be successful on the first attempt, but don’t be discouraged. With the right conditions and care, you can breed these fish in your own aquarium. If you’re up for the challenge, here are the steps you’ll need to take:

3 to 5 weeks

Determine the Sexes:

Before you start, make sure you have both male and female Sharks. Females are typically slightly larger with a rounder belly, while males are a bit smaller with a more streamlined body.

Condition the Breeding Pair:

Feed your them a high-quality diet, including live and frozen foods, to prepare them for breeding. This process can improve their overall health and increase the chances of successful breeding.

Prepare a Suitable Environment:

Set up a large breeding tank with plenty of open space for swimming. Maintain the water conditions at optimal levels, with a slightly higher temperature (around 28°C) to encourage spawning.

Introduce the Breeding Pair:

Transfer the healthiest and most active male and female to the breeding tank.

Monitor for Spawning Behaviour:

The male will chase the female around the tank, a sign that they’re ready to spawn.


If the female is receptive, she will release her eggs into the water, and the male will fertilize them.

Post-Spawning Care:

Once spawning is over, remove the parents from the breeding tank to prevent them from eating the eggs.

Egg Care:

The eggs will hatch in approximately 24-48 hours. Maintain optimal water conditions during this period.

Feeding the Fry:

Once the fry are free-swimming, feed them infusoria or finely crushed flake food until they’re large enough to eat regular food.

Bala shark large aquarium

Should You Get a Bala Shark for Your Aquarium?

Deciding whether to get a Bala Shark for your aquarium depends on several factors. Here are some benefits and drawbacks to consider:


  • Aesthetic Appeal: Naturally their size and looks will draw you eyes too them. Making them the centre piece, especially in a group.
  • Peaceful Nature: Despite their ‘shark’ moniker, they are peaceful and can coexist with a variety of other non-aggressive, similarly-sized fish.
  • Long Lifespan: With proper care, they can live for 10-15 years, making them a long-term companion.
  • Ease of Feeding: They are not picky eaters and will readily accept a variety of foods, making feeding relatively straightforward.


  • Tank Size Requirement: They can grow up to 35 centimetres and are active swimmers, requiring a large tank (150 gallons minimum) which may not be feasible for everyone.
  • Group Living: They are schooling fish and should ideally be kept in groups of five or more, which further increases the tank size requirements.
  • Jumping Tendency: Bala Sharks are known to jump, especially when stressed or young. A secure tank lid is a must to prevent them from leaping out.

In conclusion, Bala Sharks can make a wonderful addition to your aquarium if you have the space and time to meet their specific needs. Their peaceful nature, sleek look, and lively behaviour can make the effort well worth it.

Bala shark bottom dwelling


Are Bala Sharks aggressive?

No, Bala Sharks are not aggressive. Despite their name, they are known for their peaceful temperament. They are social, schooling fish and coexist well with similarly-sized, non-aggressive tank mates.

Will a Bala Sharks eat other fish?

While Bala Sharks are primarily omnivores, they might eat smaller fish if given the opportunity, especially if the fish are small enough to fit in their mouths. It’s best to house them with similarly-sized or larger species.

Are Bala Sharks good for beginners?

Bala Sharks may not be the best choice for beginners due to their specific care needs. They require a large tank, prefer to be in schools, and need precise water conditions, which could be challenging for novice aquarists.

Will Bala Sharks jump out of the tank?

Yes, Bala Sharks are known to be jumpers, especially when they are young or feel stressed. It’s essential to have a well-fitted lid on your aquarium to prevent them from jumping out.

Why is my Bala Shark upside down?

If your Bala Shark is swimming upside down, it could indicate a health issue such as swim bladder disease, often caused by poor diet or water quality. Consult a vet or aquarium professional for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

How many Bala Sharks should I keep?

Bala Sharks are schooling fish and prefer to be in groups. It’s recommended to keep at least five Bala Sharks together, although they’ll be happier and healthier in larger groups if your tank size allows.

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