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The Bala Shark, Silver Giant of the Home Aquarium

Bala Sharks (Balantiocheilus melanopterus) are large, beautiful fish native to Southeast Asia, specifically Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Sumatra, and Kalimantan. They are also known as tricolor sharks, silver sharks, try color minnows, and Silver Bala.

Bala Sharks (Balantiocheilus melanopterus)

Bala Sharks are so named because their dorsal fin provides a resemblance to a shark, not because of their behavior or any other relation to a shark. They are actually members of the carp family that are more closely related to minnows or goldfish.

Bala Sharks are extremely popular in the aquarium trade thanks to their beautiful appearance, interesting behavior, and relative ease of care. However, far too many aquarists get them without realizing their specific needs, particularly how much space they require. Here’s what you need to know about Bala Shark care and whether this will be a good fish for your aquarium.

Bala Shark Quick Information

TemperamentPeaceful
Lifespan10 years
Size12 to 14 inches
Water flowFast
Aquarium size150 gallons, or about 45 gallons per shark
Aquarium decorHeavily planted, with rocks or driftwood to break up current
Temperature 77 Degrees Fahrenheit
PH:6.5 to 8
Water hardness10 to 13
LightingAny type of lighting is fine, although full spectrum is recommended to maintain a planted aquarium. Light should be provided for about 8 hours a day.
Compatible tankmatesOther Bala Sharks, Gourami, Larger Tetra species, Rainbow Fish, Rasbora, Angelfish and other large, peaceful fish
Available captive-bred?Yes
Family group Cyprinidae
Close relativesCarp, Minnows, Goldfish, other sharks
Feeding DifficultyEasy to feed
Schooling Fish?Yes
DietHigh-quality commercial flakes or pellet diets are acceptable, and ideally will be supplemented with brine shrimp, bloodworms, feeder minnows, end feeder shrimp

Bala Sharks in the wild

In the wild, Bala Sharks are found in fast-flowing rivers and streams. They have become endangered or extinct in many of the original habitats. There is some evidence that they are expanding their range in the wild, perhaps to escape habitat destruction.

In captivity, they are relatively easy to care for provided proper conditions.

Bala Sharks in the wild

What Size Tank Do Bala Sharks Need?

Since Bala Sharks are rather large fish, typically growing to a foot in length, and since they thrive when they are kept in groups of at least three, Bala Shark tank size needs to be quite large to keep them happy. An aquarium of at least a hundred and fifty gallons is recommended for a small school of Bala Sharks. If you want more Bala Sharks or you want lots of other fish in the aquarium, a larger tank is ideal.

Bala Shark tank size is very important. Here is a school of Bala Sharks looking overcrowded even in a 180-gallon tank:

How Big do Bala Shark Fish Get?

Bala Sharks Typically grow from 12in to around 14in.

How Fast do Bala Sharks Grow?

Bala Sharks grow quite quickly, typically going from the size that they are usually sold at around 3in to 4in to a foot long by the time they are a year old. They are typically sold at around three inches because mortality is higher in very young fish. Bala Sharks may continue to grow slowly after a year, reaching a maximum size of around 14 in 

How Fast do Bala Sharks Grow

Bala Shark Fish Behavior

Bala Sharks tend to be quite active in the aquarium, which makes them very entertaining for the aquarist to observe. They school together, typically mimicking each other’s movements. They tend to be very curious and involved with their environment.

Bala Sharks generally do not behave in a territorial way or bother other fish in the aquarium as long as they are compatible species, so if you enjoy an aquarium in which all the fish seem to get along well together, you will appreciate the Bala Shark.

Bala Sharks typically swim in the middle of the aquarium, which is nice since so many other fish prefer the bottom or the top. They prefer to swim in the vigorous fast-moving water in the center of the aquarium, but will often seek refuge from the current in hiding places like behind driftwood or in clusters of plants.

Why is my Bala Shark Hiding?

If you have a solitary Bala Shark, it is very typical for them to hide and behave with uncharacteristic aggression towards other fish, since being alone stresses these fish out. If you have just added a school of Bala Sharks to your aquarium, you are likely to find that they are rather timid and hide a lot for the first couple of weeks. Bala Sharks take some time to adjust to their new environment before they become more curious and act in their characteristic active way.

Why is my Bala Shark Hiding

Are Bala Sharks Aggressive?

Bala Sharks tend to have a rather calm demeanor. They are a good tank mates for a wide variety of different types of fish. However, Bala Sharks are enthusiastic eaters, and they can hog food to the point of preventing other fish from eating enough, particularly if the fish they are housed with are smaller, timid, or not particularly strong swimmers.

Bala Sharks tend to be more aggressive when they are by themselves, perhaps because they feel stressed in this situation, so it is important to always keep Bala Sharks in schools.

Do Bala Shark Fish Eat Other Fish?

Bala Sharks are large fish with fish as part of their natural diet, so it should come as no surprise that they will sometimes eat smaller fish given the opportunity. Bala Sharks should not be kept with any fish smaller than their mouth unless you are intentionally providing feeder minnows. Some Bala Sharks may even try to eat slightly larger fish, so to play it safe make sure that any fish you place with a Bala Shark is at least the size of the Bala Sharks head.

Are Bala Shark Fish Fin Nippers?

Generally, Bala Sharks do not tend to nip at fins. If they decide to eat another fish, they generally do so by swallowing the entire fish. However, when Bala Sharks are housed alone, they may become more defensive or aggressive, and more likely to nip at fins. They may also mistake colorful fins for food flakes and nip at them for that reason.

What Fish Are Compatible With Bala Sharks?

Because Bala Sharks are relatively peaceful, they can be safely housed with a wide range of other species. Gourami, Larger Tetra species, Rainbow Fish, Rasbora, and Angelfish are all good options, but many other types of fish can be considered.

Bala Sharks tend to be very active, so they can stress out fish that are more sedate if they are not given room to get away from the Bala Shark or hide. Because Bala Sharks are predatory, they should not be kept with any fish that is small enough for them to eat. Bala Sharks also enjoy eating snails, so it is not a good idea to try to keep decorative nails with your Bala Shark.

Avoid any fish that may be aggressive to your Bala Shark, like some cichlids or catfish, as they may nip at your Bala Shark and stress them out to the point of making them unhealthy.

Can Angelfish Live With Bala Sharks?

Angelfish are excellent companions for a Bala Shark fish aquarium. They are not aggressive and typically get along very well with Bala Sharks. They grow to about 6in long, with their fans extending their length to around 8in. This is a large enough size that they will not be at risk of being eaten by Bala Sharks.

While Angelfish are generally quite easy-going and slow-moving, they are decidedly ambitious when it comes to feeding time, so you are unlikely to have any issues with the Bala Shark hogging all the food and preventing Angelfish from getting their share.

Can Bala Sharks Live With Guppies?

Bala Sharks may do well with Guppies when they are very small, but as they get bigger, it becomes increasingly likely that a Bala Shark will view you a Guppy as a potential meal. Even when they are small, Bala Sharks are very likely to eat Guppy offspring.

Can Red Tail Sharks Live With Bala Sharks?

Red Tail Sharks don’t get along well with most kinds of other sharks, but they do just fine with Bala Sharks. While they don’t grow as large as Bala Sharks, they do get big enough to not be at risk of being eaten by the Bala Shark fish.

Despite their smaller size, they are vigorous aquarium mates that will have no trouble getting their share of food. They also tend to occupy the bottom of the aquarium, whereas Bala Sharks occupy the mid-range, so they typically stay out of each other’s way. Both enjoy fast water, making them very suitable to the same aquarium.

Do Bala Sharks Get Along With Goldfish?

Bala Sharks are actually fairly closely related to Goldfish, so you may assume that they would be good tank mates for one another. When it comes to temperament and size, Bala Sharks and Goldfish are very likely good companions for one another.

However, the problem in housing these fish in the same aquarium comes from water temperature and flow. Goldfish typically require temperatures from 60 degrees to 74 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the type. Bala Sharks require warmer temperatures. Therefore, they are not good tankmates for one another.

How do You Keep Bala Shark Fish Alive?

Use a Secure Lid

Bala Sharks are very active fish, and they naturally tend to jump periodically. This means that even if they are not actively trying to jump out of the aquarium, they may end up doing so accidentally.

It is essential to have a firmly attached lid on your Bala Shark aquarium. It is best that the lid be clamped down or have weights placed on top of it since the powerfully swimming Bala Shark may be able to dislodge the lid if it is not secure.

Provide Sufficient Flow

Bala Sharks are native to fast-flowing streams and rivers, so they need plenty of water flow in order to remain happy and healthy. Without fast-flowing water, they are much more prone to disease and may even damage themselves by running into the edges of the aquarium.

Offer Plenty of Resting and Hiding Places

While Bala Sharks prefer a tank with good flow, they also need places to get out of the flow and rest sometimes. A Bala Shark kept in an aquarium with a fast flow with no places to get relief from the current can become exhausted, lose weight, and even die.

A heavily planted aquarium is a good idea for Bala Sharks. Rocks and driftwood are also great options for breaking up the current and giving your Bala Shark somewhere to rest.

Since Bala Sharks will sometimes tend to hang out in places where the current is disturbed, it is a good idea to make these places focal points at the back of your aquarium so that you can enjoy observing your Bala Shark school. Bala Sharks prefer to stay together, so make sure that the disruption in the current is large enough to house several sharks.

Maintain Clean, Well-Oxygenated Water

Unlike some other shark species which can be more resilient to less-than-ideal water quality, Bala Sharks can be fairly vulnerable to poor water quality. It is important to perform regular water changes and use good filtration to keep your Bala Shark in good condition.

Changing from 25 to 35% of the water every week is ideal. Never change more than about 35% of the water at a time. Bala Sharks can be very susceptible to large water changes. Changing as much as 50% of the water could shock or even kill them. 

It isn’t clear exactly why large water changes cause such a problem, but it may come from a water change reducing the amount of oxygen in the water or increasing the nitrates. Either way, to play it safe, stick to smaller water changes.

Regular water testing is a good idea as well. More heavily planted aquariums will help to regulate water quality naturally as well as being attractive to Bala Sharks. Because Bala Sharks prefer well-oxygenated water, it’s not a bad idea to use an air stone or other bubbling device to keep the oxygen level high. These devices can also assist with generating the type of current required for a Bala Shark.

Offer Quality Food

Bala Sharks are generally good eaters, willing to take most types of food that are provided. However, if you offer your Bala Shark fish low-quality food, they may become malnourished, regardless of how much they eat.

These energetic fish need food with lots of protein and nutrients to keep them in good health. A malnourished Bala Shark is more likely to become sick or diseased. Live food offerings like feeder minnows or shrimp are a good idea to supplement a high-quality flake or pellet diet.

How Often to Feed Bala Sharks

It is best to feed your Bala Shark more frequently if at all possible. Three times a day is ideal, especially for younger sharks. Once a Bala Shark is an adult, two meals or even one may be acceptable, but feeding more often is always preferable. 

Respond to disease quickly

Bala Sharks are not particularly prone to illness, but it is important to respond to any illness that you do see very quickly. Fungal, viral, or bacterial infections can develop. Bala Sharks can also be prone to Ich, or White Spot disease, which is caused by parasites.

You can tell that your Bala Shark is suffering from a parasite if it rubs on the decorations or substrate as if trying to get something off. You can also visibly see the white spots on its body. Sometimes correcting an imbalance in aquarium conditions or improving the current can get rid of the problem, while other times you may need to treat the illness with medication.

Respond to disease quickly

How Long do Bala Shark Fish Live?

Bala Sharks generally live up to ten years in captivity with good care. If you do not provide sufficient room for them or if conditions are less than ideal, they may not live nearly this long. If the shark is housed alone it is more likely to suffer from a short lifespan due to the stress of being a schooling fish kept solitary.

Do Bala Sharks Play Dead?

Bala sharks do not play dead as a deliberate behavior, but a number of things could cause them to suddenly stop moving and hang upside down or sideways in the water. Here are a few reasons that you are Bala Shark may be displaying this kind of behavior:

  • They’ve stunned themselves. Bala Sharks are powerful swimmers and tend to be very active. In too small of an aquarium, they may swim erratically all over the tank, running into decorations and walls. If they hit something too hard, they may shock themselves and hang suspended in the water for a few minutes.
  • They are very frightened. Bala Shark fish are active and curious most of the time, but they can be a bit more responsive to potentially frightening stimuli than most other types of aquarium fish. Suddenly opening the aquarium lid, dropping in a large block of food, or other behavior on your part could startle your Bala Shark and send them into temporary shock.
  • They don’t have enough oxygen. Bala Sharks require high levels of oxygen to remain happy and healthy. If oxygen levels drop, they may go into shock and hang suspended in the water. This is most common after too large of a water change, but may also occur without sufficient aeration.
  • They have a neurologic infection. Some Bala Sharks in Thailand have been found to have a central nervous system infection that results in uncoordinated movements, rolling, and pitching which may also result in a Bala Shark appearing to play dead.

Breeding Bala Sharks

The vast majority of Bala Sharks currently available in the pet trade are bred in captivity. Increasingly, they are bred domestically in the United States, rather than being imported from Asia.

However, it is quite difficult to breed a Bala Shark in a home aquarium. Bala Sharks must be at least three years old and 5in long before they can breed. Hormone injections are required to stimulate breeding behavior.

Bala Sharks may also refuse to breed unless they are kept separated until they are about four months old. Most breeders also increase the tank temperature slowly from 77 to 82 degrees to stimulate breeding.

Plenty of hiding places and strong flow are necessary to encourage breeding behavior. However, promptly after Bala Sharks breed, the filtration system should be switched to a sponge-type filter that will prevent the fry, which are weak swimmers, from being sucked in. The parents should be removed at this time to prevent them from suffering from reduced water current and to keep them from eating the fry.

How Can You Tell If a Bala Shark is Male or Female?

It is very challenging to tell whether a Bala Shark fish is male or female. Most Bala Shark breeders keep at least five or six Bala Sharks in the breeding aquarium to ensure that there is a mix of males and females in the group. Males tend to be a bit larger and leaner, while females have a more rounded abdomen.

Enjoy your Bala Sharks

How Can You Tell If a Bala Shark is Male or Female

Bala Sharks are beautiful silvery fish that are very curious and active in the aquarium, making them a favorite choice for large aquariums. Because they tend to be fairly peaceful, you can enjoy watching the aquarium without having to see stress as fish chase each other around and display territorial aggression.

Bala Sharks do well with a wide range of other fish and tend to live long, healthy lives provided they have the proper care. Make sure that you had a big enough aquarium and proper water parameters, and you will enjoy watching your Bala Sharks for many years to come.

Resources: 

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bala_shark
  2. https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=2616
  3. https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Balantiocheilos_melanopterus/classification/
  4. https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=163716#null

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