Bala Sharks are a large and interesting freshwater fish that many aquarium owners consider at one point or another.

And there are plenty of reasons why.

In this care guide, we explore the ins and outs of Bala Sharks and everything you should know about them if you’re thinking about adding them to your aquarium setup.

By the time you’re finished reading, you’ll know a ton about them and be able to decide if they’re a good fit for you.

Species summary

Native to Southeast Asia, the Bala Shark has been affectionately called “The Gentle Giant” due to its larger size and easygoing temperament. This beautiful freshwater fish would make a wonderful addition to your freshwater aquarium if you have a bit of experience raising fish.

Close up of a Bala Shark with a white background

This fish’s laid back and calmer temperament makes it an ideal tank mate with many other species of fish. It also means that the care level is quite manageable.

They’re colored yellow, black and gray, and they can grow up to 12 inches, or 25-30 cm, in length making them relatively large for an aquarium fish. The lifespan of a Bala Shark can be up to 10 years with the proper care.

A member of the Cyprinidae family of fish species, they (Balantiocheilus melanopterus) prefer fast-flowing rivers and streams in the Southeastern Asia countries of Sumatra, Kalimantan, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Thailand.

Varying names

In their native habitats, Bala Sharks are also known by other names that include Tricolor Shark, Silver Bala, Silver Shark and Tri Color Minnows due to their unique colors and markings. Today, Bala Sharks are considered an endangered species of fish and are thought to have become rare or extinct in many of their original freshwater habitats.

Although their name indicates a similarity to sharks, considered to be aggressive predators, these peaceful fish get their name due to its shark-like body shape and higher, triangular-shaped dorsal fin similar to what sharks have.

Otherwise, these fish share no other traits or behaviors with sharks found in saltwater oceans.

Temperament and activity level

These affable fish travel in schools when in the wild, and fish owners should purchase several of these Bala Sharks at a time as they like company. These tend to be very active, and they make great home aquarium fish as they are interesting to watch. 

They’re such active fish that there’s a good chance they will jump from time to time. This is why having a lid on your tank is a smart idea.

It is recommended that aquarium owners place hiding spots for Bala Sharks to rest in when tired of swimming. Plants and roots work fine.

Partly due to their potential for growing quite large, they might be prone to hogging the food when it comes to food. This is true especially if kept with smaller fish who can’t hold their own.

Although not considered an aggressive fish species, Bala Sharks can eat smaller fish, especially those that are smooth and sleek, as they get bigger. However, these fish tend to get along well with many types of freshwater aquarium fish.

Bala Shark size

Since these fish are rare in their natural abodes, most of these fish are bought from fish farms. These tend to be just 3 to 4 inches when first bought, and fish owners are often surprised to learn that the adult size can be up to 1 foot or 13 inches.

As these Bala Fish grow larger, they should be switched to larger sized aquariums. Additionally, these fish should be closely watched as they grow to ensure continued compatibility with smaller fish.

Care

Most fish experts agree that Bala Sharks are relatively easy to care for if the fish owner has some basic knowledge of fish care. These fish tend to remain healthy, but fish owners should be sure to keep their aquariums clean and the water level and temperature stable for best results.

Bala Sharks can be somewhat vulnerable if their tank water becomes dirty or when the tank water level lowers.

When introducing them to a new tank they should be given approximately a month to settle into their new home. It is crucial to have a good water filtration system, and fish owners should try to leave these fish undisturbed during this time frame.

These fish need higher quality food, as they can get malnourished if fed poor quality foods. This could lead to further digestive problems that can make the fish more vulnerable to the common fish diseases and ailments usually seen. 

Making sure that the fish have the right diet suited for their size and breed goes a long way towards ensuring their future health and extending their lifespan.

Keeping an eye out for illness

Bala Sharks should be monitored for signs of common fish ailments like dropsy that causes them to swell and ich which results in white spots on their scales. If this is seen, the fish often has a parasitic or bacterial infection and should be treated.

With ich, fish owners might begin to notice that the fish rub up against objects due to the itching.

Most fish experts recommend that about 25 to 35 percent of the tank water be renewed each week to keep them healthy, comfortable and happy in their environment. 

All-in-all, the Bala Shark makes an excellent addition to almost any freshwater tank. With regular maintenance and good care, these fish may live up to 10 years as they are considered basically hardy and prone to good health.

Tank size

The exact tank size that’s best for Bala Sharks is somewhat debated in the aquarium community. The most common suggested range is between a 120 and 150 gallon tank, which is a rather large aquarium.

Obviously, the more fish you have, the more room they will need. To play it safe we always recommend a minimum tank size that’s on the larger end of this spectrum as a starting point.

Water conditions

Like we mentioned above, there are certain water conditions that you’ll need to provide if you want your Bala Shark to thrive and live a long and healthy life.

The first is the baseline water temperature. Silver sharks do best when their water temperature is at 77°F. You can easily accomplish this with a solid heater.

You’ll also want to be mindful of the pH levels in the tank as well. The safe range for this is somewhere between 6.5 and 8 pH.

Bala Shark

Anything outside of that can cause serious health complications Bala Shark. Being able to consistently keep the pH right in the middle of this range (somewhere just above 7) will give you a safe window of flux in the event that any out of the ordinary water changes happen in your tank.

The water hardness is the last key piece of the puzzle when it comes to water levels. This is measured in dGH (degrees of general hardness) and the window you’re aiming for is somewhere between 10 and 13.

All of these levels can be easily monitored with a thermometer and a basic water testing kit. Making this a habit will help you provide better care for your Bala Sharks, and prevent you from having to deal with unwanted surprises.

Lighting

The last factor when it comes to tank conditions is the lighting. Fortunately for aquarists, Bala Sharks are very low maintenance in this regard.

All you need to provide them with sufficient lighting is a basic freshwater lamp that shouldn’t cost you much money at all. Just keep it on for a third of the day (or eight hours) and you will have very happy fish!

Food and diet

When in their natural habitat, Bala Sharks are omnivores that eat insects, larvae, algae, plant portions, and small crustaceans. When kept in an aquarium, they tend to eat just about any type of fish food including both live options and dried flake food selections. 

It is recommended that Bala Sharks be given a good quality dry fish food like pellets or flakes as their main food source. 

Some fish experts like to provide a more diversified diet for their Bala Sharks to mimic their natural environment food sources as closely as possible.

Adding some plankton, bloodworms or appropriate vegetable matter can increase their overall health. Many fish owners also like to add a bit of finely diced spinach and/or fruits as well.

Because Bala Sharks can grow to a large size, it is essential to give them plenty of protein in their diet to keep them growing strong. Consider adding shrimp or other higher protein-laden food. 

Overall, you should be feeding yours 3 times a day. This should be a small amount that takes the fish roughly 2 to 3 minutes to eat. Monitoring this helps to ensure that they are getting the right food portions. 

These fish do not need special foods or supplements, and fish owners should simply strive to feed them a balanced diet for continued good health.

What are good tank mates for Bala Sharks?

This fish is well known for its congenial manner, and they tend to do well living with many other different fish species.

Some great tank mates for Bala Sharks are:

  • Rainbowfish
  • Tetra
  • Rasbora
  • Gourami
  • Other Bala Sharks

However, there is the chance that the Bala Shark will eat smaller fish when they become larger, so the tank should always be roomy enough for all.

There are some species of smaller fish that should be avoided as tankmates as well. These include neon tetra, guppies, harlequin rasbora and other smaller fish types. Always inquire whether a specific smaller fish is the ideal tank buddy before adding to the tank.

Fish owners should also be aware that these relatively frisky fish tend to move around and swim for hours. This can stress out smaller fish that tend to move less.

Also, the Bala Shark itself can become prone to stress if there are no places in the tank where they can hide when desired.

When alone, they are more likely to act a bit more aggressive. To avoid this scenario, always have several of them as they travel together in schools when in natural environments.

There are some larger fish species that tend to be predators (like cichlids). These should be avoided or closely monitored to ensure that your Bala Shark is safe with their tankmates. A larger predator could nip or become aggressive towards them.

How do you breed them?

To breed your Bala Sharks, it is recommended that you determine the sex of the fish if possible. Females often have a slightly rounded belly area and body type. Males are typically a bit larger in size.

It can be difficult to tell apart the sexes. When in captivity, the Bala Sharks only becomes able to reproduce when they are at least 3 years of age and at least 5 inches, or 13 cm, long.

Fish owners should also be aware that fish kept in captivity will not typically reproduce or breed.

To combat this, special hormone injections are necessary to spur and stimulate this breeding nature. 

It is necessary to prep a Bala Shark before they are of age to breed. This means that the fish should be kept separated in another tank before they reach puberty. This is when they are around 4 months old.

Most fish breeders recommend that at least 5 Bala Sharks be kept together during the breeding process to ensure that there is both male and female fish in the holding tank.

Silver shark at bottom of tank

It is crucial to give the fish enough space and room to swim during this process. Overcrowding can decrease the chances of successful breeding.

Since these fish prefer plants and other objects to hide in, it is better to place these along the sides of the aquarium to leave enough room for movement elsewhere.

The actual aquarium used when the spawning process happens needs to be at least 65 gallons, and the temperature should be kept at 77 degrees for the ideal breeding environment. 

There are special nets that can be placed at the very bottom of the aquarium that makes it easier to spot signs of spawning. However, this is not absolutely necessary, and many fish owners simply leave the bottom floor area clear for better viewing.

Bala Sharks tend to spawn in the morning, and this process can take several hours. After the female spawns, the male will then fertilize the spawned eggs with a substance called milt.

Encouraging the process

It is important to have good water flow during spawning so that the male fertilizing agent gets spread out farther. After this happens, it is usually recommended that the tanks air/water filtration system be switched to a single sponge type filter that is placed internally to keep the small fry from being sucked in.

To spur spawning, some fish breeders slowly increase the tank water temperature from 77 degrees up to 82 degrees.

After the spawning and fertilization takes place, it is necessary to then remove the parent fish from the tank.

After a few more hours, the unfertilized whitish spawn material can be safely removed. In awhile, 30 to 50 percent of the water should be renewed carefully. Ensure that the filter is on and operating. 

Some fish breeders recommend adding an antibiotic solution to the tank water.

Within 24 hours, small larvae can begin to be visible. Afterward, fish owners can expect to see small fry in 3 to 4 more days if the process was successful.

The fry can be fed with ciliates at first. Later, fry can be given cyclops or nauplii of artemia.

The new Bala Sharks can grow at different speeds. It might become necessary to move some to other tanks to ensure enough room for growth and movement. 

Conclusion

Bala Sharks are a rewarding and unique fish to keep in your aquarium. We hope that after reading this post you’ll have a better understanding of the fish in general, and the kind of care that you’ll need to provide.

This information should be more than enough to give you an idea of if this is the right fish for you. Some aquarists decide they would rather go with something that doesn’t need such a large tank, and others get hooked on the idea of owning a Bala Shark right from the get-go.

Take some time to think about it, and always default to doing what’s best for the fish.

We’re always on the lookout for feedback and ways we can improve. If you want to get in touch we encourage you to do so via our contact page.

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