Bala Shark: Species Guide with Answers to Common Questions

Written by Randy Martin
Bala Shark white background

You will find the Bala Shark available in most pet and fish stores. They are a great species for fish keepers with large aquariums.

In this article I will guide you through the basics of caring for this fish and then go over many common questions that are asked about the Bala Shark.

Bala Shark 101

Scientific name: Balantiocheilos melanopterus

What is a Bala Shark? A Bala Shark is a freshwater tropical fish breed that is popularly kept by hobby fish keepers. It originates from rivers and lakes in Southeast Asia, but almost all commercially available Bala Shark are bred in captivity. It is a large mild mannered fish that requires plenty of extra aquarium space.

The Bala Shark is known by several different names, such as:

  • Silver Shark
  • Silver Bala
  • Tricolor Shark
  • Tricolor Shark Minnow

The Bala Shark isn’t a real shark, it gets that name because of how it looks. It has this striking slender body and a dorsal fin that is very “shark like” in appearance.

Dorsal fin of a Bala Shark

When you see them at fish stores they are probably young and small. But beware, this fish gets bigger than you would think. Also they prefer to school together and are very active swimmers—so they need a lot of space.

It’s a common occurrence that people buy these as juveniles and then end up having to upgrade to a bigger fish tank or give the fish away altogether once the shark begins to mature.

As a schooling fish it does well when 5 or more are kept together. They are more relaxed and healthy when they are raised with other Bala Sharks.

They are mostly a mid-level to top level swimmer. But they have been known to sift through the bottom substrate scavenging for food.

Bala Sharks are also skilled jumpers as they regularly catch insects out in the wild that fly too close to the surface. People have lost fish due to them jumping out of an aquarium from time to time. It’s best to make sure you have a lid secured on your aquarium at all times.

Overall the Bala Shark is easy to care for, and would be a good choice for beginner fish keepers. The main concern of course is their size and the required space they need.

Bala Shark size

Size: Up to 14 inches (35cm)

Most Bala Sharks in captivity will only grow to be about 10 to 12 inches in size. In the wild they have been known to grow slightly larger. The body is long and slender—adding to their agility, speed and active life style.

Bala Shark tank requirements

Minimum tank size: 150 gallons (568 liters)

150 gallons is the commonly stated minimum. But realistically you would probably need more. Around 200 gallons and higher would make more sense.

If you are keeping these correctly, then you will have a school of at least 5 Bala Sharks together. They need lots of room to school and move about. 150 gallons would still be fairly limiting for them.

Another commonly stated minimum is to have an aquarium that is at least 5 feet (150cm) long, to provide a better swimming environment.

Some owners might feel they can keep their Bala Shark in a smaller tank and that the Shark just won’t grow it’s full size and it will be fine. This is true, you actually can stunt the growth of a Bala Shark. But that also shortens it’s life span and seems to agitate the fish’s well being, as people have reported the fish becoming very skittish and stressed in those conditions.

Temperature and water levels

Temperature: 72–82 F (22–28 C)

pH: 6.0 – 8.0

The Bala Shark has been known to be a hardy fish and easy to care for, but also more sensitive in some areas. For example if your tank is not getting enough oxygen from the water flow then your Bala Shark can start developing symptoms to that before other fish species.

Some fish keepers have noted that their Bala Sharks survived terrible outbreaks of ich and other diseases while other species in the same tank perished.

They are pretty acceptable and adaptable to most tropical conditions. Keeping the temperature around 78 F and a little below would be ideal.

Feeding and diet

Diet: Omnivore – plant and animal food sources

Bala Shark are omnivores. They are very easy to feed and keep happy with most typical tropical food sources. Tropical flakes, pellets, wafers. Getting a good mix of plant food and protein is key and switching it up from time to time.

In the wild they eat microscopic plant food called phytoplankton,
small crustaceans, insects, larvae, and more.

It may be a good idea to give them a fasting period ever so often to give their stomachs a rest, as they tend to pig out like most fish.

Temperament and tank mates

Temperament: Peaceful (with some exceptions)

Most people claim the Bala Shark is peaceful, and that is mostly true, but there seems to be exceptions.

For the most part they are very mild. It seems if they are kept in a school together they will be their most peaceful. The safety and security they feel together promotes a more relaxed life style.

If they are left alone with other fish species, especially more aggressive type fish, it can bring out the aggressiveness in them a little more even though people wouldn’t label them as aggressive.

I know of several tanks where a Bala Shark was bullying other fish around. For the most part though this is rare and they truly are peaceful.

You generally don’t have to worry about them eating other fish since they have such a small mouth they don’t really go for other fish. It’s possible you could have problems with small shrimp species you may be keeping in the tank.

With all that said you can keep Bala Sharks with a wide variety of tank mates. A general rule to stay safe is keep it with fish that are about half the size of the Bala Shark or a similar size.

Many fish keepers have had success keeping Bala Sharks with small Tetras, and even aggressive African Cichlids. Though this isn’t really recommended. But many Bala Shark owners praise the fish for being highly compatible with just about everything.

Life span

Life expectancy: approx. 10 years

Going off of people’s personal experiences I have mostly heard of Bala Sharks typically living up to 10 years. But there are some who claim they have lived up to 20 years and beyond.

Big bala shark

Commonly Asked Questions

Here is a long list of answers to questions that are commonly asked about the Bala Shark. It may be helpful to read through these questions if you are considering getting a Bala Shark. The questions themselves may be eye opening along with the answers.

Where is the Bala Shark from?

The Bala Shark comes from Southeast Asia. It’s found in rivers and some lakes. It can be found in parts of Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia to name a few areas.

Although the Bala Shark is now labeled as endangered, and it’s disappearing from many of it’s natural locations that it could once be found in. There is different opinions as to why this is, but a widely believed cause is sadly the fact that mass harvesting for the fish keeping hobby had a huge impact.

Nowadays virtually all Bala Sharks that you find available in fish stores were bred in captivity.

Does a Bala Shark need a heater?

Bala Sharks are a tropical fish species. They need warmer waters, somewhere between 72–82 F (22–28 C). It is usually best to have a heater to maintain the temperature consistently. But depending on your environment you may not need a heater if the ambient heat in the room is stable and at an acceptable temperature.

I write about this more thoroughly in my article the best ways to heat an aquarium. It may help you determine if you need a heater or not.

Can a Bala Shark live in a 10 or 20 gallon aquarium?

Bala Sharks grow to be very large, up to 15 inches long in some cases. They require lot’s of space considering they grow to be very large, and are very active swimmers. You may have bought a Bala Shark that is only a few inches long, but it will grow. Most people recommend 150 gallon aquariums, but even larger than that would make more sense.

Will Bala Sharks eat other fish?

For the most part Bala Shark leave other fish species alone, and hearing about them eating other fish in an aquarium is uncommon. They do however feed on small animal sources and protein in the wild, so there is always a chance they can feed on smaller fish. They have small mouths so that is possibly what stops them from being more of an aggressive carnivore.

Will Bala Sharks eat shrimp?

I have seen some setups with Bala Shark and shrimp together and I didn’t hear anything about the fish preying on the shrimp, so I assume it didn’t happen. But if you had small shrimp like ghost or cherry shrimp I wouldn’t be surprised if a Bala Shark would feed on them. The Bala Shark often scavenges on the bottom substrate, being known to vacuum through the gravel and washing it through its gills.

With that said, a nice meal of brine shrimp would be a welcomed treat for Bala Sharks.

Are Bala Sharks a catfish?

Bala Sharks are not related to catfish. Bala Sharks are related to the cyprinidae family. Barbels also belong to the cyprinidae family and they do closely resemble catfish.

How fast do Bala Shark grow?

I haven’t found any studies on this. But owners have reported around half an inch of growth per month in the very beginning and as it gets larger that pace will slow down considerably.

Can Bala Shark live with Goldfish?

Goldfish are a cold water fish, while Bala Sharks are tropical. In order to keep the temperature high enough to keep the Bala Shark happy, it would start depriving the goldfish of much needed oxygen which could result in all sorts of health complications for the goldfish. Strictly speaking about temperature needs alone, the two species are not compatible.

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