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Bala Sharks: Complete Care Guide To Freshwater Sharks

It’s not always easy to care for sharks in freshwater aquariums, so consider building your next community around a group of stunning silver Bala Sharks. While these fierce-looking fish are peaceful, their size and activity present some challenges for beginners, so check out the tips and advice in this detailed care guide!

Quick Facts About Bala Shark

Common Name (species)

Bala Shark, Silver Shark, Tri-Color Minnow, Sharkminnow
(Balantiocheilus melanopterus)

Family

Cyprinidae

Origin

Southeast Asia

Care Level

Moderate

Size Range

10 to 14 inches in length

Diet

Omnivore; consumes algae and plant materials, along with live insects, larvae, crustaceans, and eggs/fry

Feeding

Commercial omnivore flake or pellets supplemented with live/frozen/dried treats like brine shrimp or bloodworms

Activity

Very active and social once acclimated but may be shy initially. Single sharks usually remain shy/depressed and hide behind decor/plants, so best kept in groups

Temperament

Peaceful, curious and social

Tank Level

Mid-level or center

Minimum Tank Size

150 gallons for a group of 3 (approximately 45-gallons per shark)

Temperature Range

76 to 80°F

Water Hardness

Not sensitive; 10 to 13 dGH ideal

pH Range

Alkaline 6.5 to 8

Filtration/Flow Rate

Prefers to swim in very clean, well-filtered water with a moderate to high flow rate and high oxygen levels

Breeding

Egglayer; provides no parental care

Compatibility

Best kept in groups of 3 to 5 sharks with peaceful or semi-aggressive communities of a similar size. Avoid keeping with small fish or crustaceans, which may be consumed, or with aggressive cichlids, plecos or other freshwater sharks

OK for Planted Tanks?

Yes, they’re ideal for planted communities as long as they have plenty of open areas for swimming/shoaling

Overview Of Freshwater Bala Shark

Bala Shark, balantiocheilus melanopterus

When it comes to freshwater sharks, few make the dramatic impact that a group of Bala Sharks (Balantiocheilus melanopterus) can bring to your community aquarium. These torpedo-shaped fish are friendly, but they often present some challenges for aquarists:

  • Bala Sharks can reach up to 14-inches in length and are very active during the day in the center of your aquarium
  • They are a peaceful and social species best kept in groups of 3 to 5 with other similar sized tank mates.
  • Due to their size, activity and social behavior, Balas need spacious set-ups with robust filtration to provide freshwater currents and open areas for swimming.

While you don’t need to be an experienced fish keeper to have Bala Sharks, they’re not an ideal choice for first-time aquarists. It’s better to master the basics of aquarium care with an easier community of fancy goldfish or nano fish. Here’s a breakdown of everything you need to know to build the ideal Bala Shark Tank!

Natural History And Habitat

While they resemble the marine predators they’re named after, Bala Sharks are actually members of the Cyprinidae or carp family and are closely related to goldfish, minnows and koi. Also known as the Silver Shark or Tricolor Shark Minnow, these fish are native to Southeast Asia:

children fishing on the river
  • Bala Sharks were originally found in fast-moving streams and rivers throughout Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Sumatra, and Kalimantan.
  • Wild fish feed on algae and other plant materials and consume a variety of insects, worms, crustaceans, fry, eggs, and larvae.
  • Harvesting for the aquarium trade and loss of habitat has led to a rapid decline in numbers and even the extinction of some wild shark populations, so they’re currently listed as a vulnerable species by the IUCN. 

Shark Size, Lifespan And Appearance 

Bala Sharks are big fish that typically measure 10 to 14-inches in length at maturity. Young fish are sold when they’re around 3 to 4-inches long and grow very rapidly, usually reaching a footlong by the end of their first year. They can live for up to a decade in captivity with proper care:

  • Balas have a torpedo-shaped body with large, black eyes, an upright shark-looking dorsal fin, and deeply forked caudal fin or tail.
  • These tricolor sharks have a silver base color with black and yellow markings on some of their fins.
  • Their pectoral fins are usually opaque and held close to their bodies, but their dorsal, abdominal, anal and caudal fins often have distinct black and yellow markings that enhance their size and resemblance to sharks.

Breeding Groups: Male VS Female Sharks

It’s not easy to distinguish individuals by gender, but males are a bit leaner and larger, while female fish have a rounded appearance. They reach sexual maturity when they’re around 4-inches long and before they are fully grown.

Social Behavior And Temperament 

Bala Sharks are active and fun to observe, but they don’t like being alone. While sharks can be shy and prone to hiding at first, groups quickly acclimate as they play and socialize. If you keep a single shark, it will likely be stressed, depressed and hidden.

Silver Balas are a shoaling species. They bond as they look for food, dodge predators, and search for mates. They’ll often swim together in a close cluster and mimic each other’s movements: 

  • They’re best kept in groups of 3 to 5 (or more) to avoid bullying problems, and to enhance their social behaviors and the visual impact as they swim around your tank.
  • These sharks prefer large, spacious set-ups with driftwood decor and plants along the edges and a long strip in the center where they can stretch out and swim in currents.

How To Care For Your Bala Shark Tank

Bala Sharks are moderately challenging to care for, but most of the hard work comes in designing your set-up and acclimating your sharks to their new home. 

Tank Set-up And Habitat Requirements

For a healthy community of Bala Sharks, you’ll need to provide a spacious environment with great filtration and a moderate to strong current down the center of your tank:

Aquarium Size 

Sharks can reach over a foot in length and are very active in the middle of your aquarium, so they need at least 45-gallons per shark. Since they don’t do well on their own, you’ll need a large tank to accommodate a group. For three to five sharks you’ll need an aquarium of at least 150 to 250 gallons. 

Substrate

Silver sharks are not picky about their substrate, and you can even keep them in bare set-ups for easy maintenance. You can use any type of aquatic soil, sand or gravel you prefer in your shark tank, although some options may be better for your bottom dwellers or live plants.

Water And Temperature Parameters

close up image of underwater landscape nature style aquarium tank with a variety of aquatic plants inside.

Sharks do best when their water temperature is stabilized with an aquarium heater and between 76 to 80°F. They prefer alkaline conditions with a pH from 6.5 to 8, but are not sensitive to water hardness and tolerate from 10 to 13 dGH.

Filtration, Aeration And Lighting

Sharks are active during the day, so a good LED light is useful and helps support plant growth. Sharks are sensitive to toxins like ammonia and prefer very clean and highly oxygenated water with plenty of flow in the center region:

  • A canister is the ideal type of filtration for sharks, although you may also need an internal powerhead to generate moderate currents for swimming.
  • A sump filter may also be useful for supporting your large tank’s Nitrogen Cycle and to help naturally break down aquarium toxins into plant nutrients.
  • An air stone or bubbling device is helpful for generating currents and maintaining high levels of oxygen in the water.

Plants And Decorations

The best decor for a shark tank are piles of driftwood or bogwood, rocks, sticks and live plants, but it’s better to place them mostly along the edges of your tank and leave the center open. That leaves plenty of room to swim and play. 

Maintenance 

Vilnius, Lithuania A man vacuums a fish tank.

To keep your shark tank clean and free of dangerous toxins, you’ll need to perform regular water changes and replace your filter’s media. You’ll probably want to invest in a high-quality gravel vacuum/hose system, since you’ll be removing and replacing hundreds of gallons of water a year.

What Do Bala Sharks Eat?

I give sharks a high-quality commercial omnivore flake or pellets diet, with a variety of treats like live/frozen/dried brine shrimp, bloodworms, insect larvae, Daphnia or shrimp eggs. You can also offer algae flakes and spirulina pellets, and they may snack on your live plants and aquarium algae as well.

The best feeding regime depends on the age of your sharks:

  • Since young fish grow very quickly and have voracious appetites, they do best when offered 2 to 3 meals a day until they reach their adult size, especially if you’d like them to spawn
  • Mature sharks can often be fed once a day, or you can continue to provide two smaller meals instead.
  • For treats, I like to offer young sharks a protein snack every other day, especially when they’re preparing to mate, but for adult fish, it’s better to substitute treats for two to three meals a week.

Compatible Bala Shark Tank Mates

Rainbow shark catfish (Epalzeorhynchos frenatum) red tailed

The best tank mates for a group of Bala Sharks are fish close in size and with a similar peaceful or semi-aggressive nature. Consider species that use other areas of your tank, such as bottom dwellers and surface swimmers, and large groups of schooling fish, such as:

  • Corydoras species
  • Rainbowfish or Gourami
  • Large tetras, rasboras or minnows
  • Other compatible sharks like Red Tails or Pictus Catfish

While Bala Sharks are known to be Gentle Giants, they’re opportunistic feeders and may consume anything small enough to fit in their mouths. Large tetras or minnows may work, but small fish and invertebrates will likely become shark snacks. Avoid keeping your sharks with:

  • Nano fish or invertebrates like Neon Tetras, freshwater shrimp or snails.
  • Large, aggressive cichlids or catfish like Oscars, Green Terrors or Common Plecostomus

Breeding Bala Sharks 

If you’d like to breed your sharks, you’ll need to do a lot of advanced planning and preparation, so I don’t recommend novice shark keepers attempt a breeding set-up: 

  • Silver sharks hit sexual maturity and start mating when they’re around 4-inches long, so it’s best to start with a young group of age-mates and raise them in their breeding tank.
  • Once your fish spawn, you can remove the parent stock to another tank to prevent them from eating their eggs or fry.

While sharks may produce eggs in your community tank, it’s unlikely the eggs will be fertile. Female sharks scatter their eggs all over the tank, and the males produce a sperm-filled milt that drifts around and fertilizes the eggs. Your canister filter will likely prevent fertilization in your community tank.

Health Concerns

Balas are usually healthy, but they’re susceptible to diseases and parasites carried in the water. Always quarantine new fish and plants for a few weeks before adding them to your shark tank. Proper maintenance, robust filtration and feeding a balanced, protein-rich diet can prevent stress and disease outbreaks in your tank.

The most common problems I’ve seen in Tricolor Sharks are bacterial, viral or fungal infections leading to fluid buildup (dropsy) and white spot disease (ich), which is caused by parasites. Sharks are usually the first species to show signs of ich, so if they are rubbing their scales on the decor you may have an outbreak.

Bala Shark Aquarium Set-Up: Product And Equipment List

Here’s a comprehensive list of the supplies and equipment you’ll need to start your shark tank. Keep in mind, you’ll need other products for a breeding or quarantine set-up. For a community with 3 Bala Sharks, you’ll need:

  • 150 gallon (or larger) aquarium with stand
  • Hood or cover/lid
  • LED light fixture
  • Aquarium heater
  • Substrate (any)
  • Canister filter with extra filter media
  • Internal powerhead 
  • Airstone or bubbler with air pump and plastic tubing
  • Decors like live plants, driftwood, sticks, rocks and branches 

To feed your sharks, pick up:

Little girl feeding fishes in the aquarium.
  • High-quality omnivore flake or pellet diets
  • Algae flakes or spirulina pellets
  • Live/frozen/dried brine shrimp, bloodworms, shrimp eggs and other protein treats 

Useful but optional equipment includes:

  • Powered hose-and-gravel vacuum system and a bucket for maintenance/water changes
  • Sump filtration system
  • Moonlight for nighttime viewing
  • UV sanitizer
  • Plant fertilizer(s) or CO2 injection system
silver shark - Bala Shark fish swimming fish tank

Conclusion

While it takes some research and planning, it’s not hard to maintain a beautiful tank of Bala Sharks. They get along with many other large community fish, so you shouldn’t need to consult a shark compatibility chart to find the right tank mates, either. Share your thoughts on these silver shark-like carp in the comments below, or jump into our online community via social media!

Jen has more than 30 years experience as a biologist, aquarist, and fishkeeper. She is an expert in setting up new tanks and maintaining naturally-planted freshwater habitats, and has experience raising a wide variety of aquatic species.

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