The Bala Shark (Balantiocheilos melanopterus ) is a freshwater fish native to Southeast Asian countries including Thailand, Sumatra and Cambodia, where they inhabit fast-flowing lakes, rivers and streams. Unfortunately, in 1996, the IUCN marked Bala Sharks as endangered. The population size was unspecified, so more research is needed, but it is believed that they are already extinct in Borneo due to overfishing and natural wildfires.
It has several names including Silver Bala, Silver Shark and Tricolor Shark. Don’t be fooled by the name though! They aren’t really sharks and they are not at all aggressive. They get the shark part of their name from the shape of their bodies.
Although Balas are listed as an endangered species in their wild habitats, they are readily available within the fish keeping trade thanks to carefully managed breeding facilities. In the UK, Silver Sharks tend to retail around £5, whereas the US is $5 for smaller Balas and up to $10 for larger individuals.
Bala Shark Lifespan
If kept in good water conditions and fed a high-quality diet, these fish can live a long time. The average lifespan for an aquarium Silver Bala is 10 years.
Silver Balas are striking fish for many reasons. They tend to be 3 to 4 inches when purchased from aquarium stores, but they will grow to an adult size of 12-13 inches. These freshwater fish have prominent silver scales. Their yellow tail and black-tipped fins makes them even more beautiful.
Like marine sharks, Balas have a tall dorsal fin, a long body tapered at the tail and a downturned mouth.
Bala Shark Tank
This is an active fish that can grow quite large, so they need plenty of room. They are a schooling fish and swim actively, therefore a long tank is more suitable. They tend to jump when startled, so a tank lid is a must to prevent any accidents.
Silver Balas should be kept in a tank of at least 125 gallons (473 litres) which is roughly 6 feet long. This will give them the required surface area to swim in. Balas are best kept in groups of 4 or 5, so a smaller tank would not be suitable.
Since Silver Sharks are native to freshwater rivers and streams, a substrate of various sizes pebbles is closest to their natural environment, however, you should also consider the requirements of any other fish sharing the same aquarium.
You can use a finer aquarium sand as a base layer and added a scattering of pebbles and small rocks to add texture and a more natural appearance. Balas do not spend time near the bottom of the tank, so your decision should be based on other species and personal preference.
Plants and Decorations
Since Bala Sharks need a lot of room to swim, tall plants should be kept away from the middle of the tank. Crypts and Anubias can grow quite tall, so should be planted in the background or edges of your aquarium. Their height adds nice definition to your set-up and provides shelter for other fish in the tank.
Java moss is an easy plant that will spread to carpet the substrate. You will need to trim it regularly to prevent it getting too tall.
Since Balas are prone to jumping when scared, you can also include some surface plant such as duckweed, water lettuce and hornwort. These are fast growing plants so you will need to trim them back regularly. They will create a natural barrier to prevent any accidental escapes.
Decorations such as stones, driftwood and spider wood will all add natural detail to your aquarium.
The tropical biome of Southeast Asia means your Bala Shark tank should be kept around 77°F (25°C) but 1 or 2 degrees either way fine. For a large tank you will need a heater of 375 watts as a minimum. To keep an eye on the tank temperature, you should install a thermometer in your tank, on the opposite side to the heater.
You will not need any specific lighting for Silver Sharks. A simple freshwater aquarium lamp with be sufficient. Be mindful of other fish sharing the same tank and also the light requirements of the plants you are keeping.
You should maintain a regular day and night schedule by keeping lighting on during the day for at least 8 or 9 hours, then switching the lighting off during the night.
Cleaning and Water Parameters
The ideal pH for your Bala Sharks is between 6.5 and 8, with a water hardness between 10 and 13. You should do weekly water tests when first setting up the tank to make sure the filtration is working correctly. Remember to add tap safe (dechlorinator) to your aquarium when first setting up.
To maintain healthy water parameters, a 20-30% water change should be done every 2-3 weeks. Bala Sharks are sensitive to changes in water parameters such as Ammonia and Nitrite levels, so you should also invest in a high-quality filtration system capable to cycling a large aquarium.
Since your Balas are native to fast-flowing rivers, your filter will need to generate moderate water movement at least in one area of the tank.
Bala Shark Health
As far as diseases go, Bala Sharks are not susceptible to any particular illnesses. They are, however, sensitive to changes in water parameters, so it is important that temperature, pH and ammonia levels are checked regularly.
Like any fish, they are susceptible to common complaints such as Ich and parasites. If you notice that your Bala are ill, consult your local aquarium dealer. They will be able to advise on the best treatment.
A poor diet can cause digestive issues, which is why it is important to feed them a high-quality diet.
Bala Shark Food & Diet
Silver Sharks are an omnivorous species, requiring both fish food and live food. Their natural diet includes aquatic insect, small crustaceans like shrimp and smaller fish fry. They will also scavenge on algae and plants.
High quality fish flakes or pellets should make up the main part of their diet. Additionally, you should provide them with protein rich food like shrimp or bloodworms. You call also give them finely chopped spinach.
Balas are prone to overeating, so they should be fed 2 smaller feeds daily. Do not put more food in than they can eat in 3 or 4 minutes.
Behavior & Temperament
Your Bala Sharks are a great addition as they are active swimmers and will school together with other Bala Sharks. They are a peaceful fish with other species of a similar size, but can show aggression to smaller fish.
They will be shy for the first week or two after being introduced to the tank, but once they acclimatize, they will be curious and active. When scared, they will jump, so be sure to have a lid on your aquarium.
Bala Sharks are a schooling fish so should be kept in a group of at least four individuals, provided your aquarium is large enough.
If you are wanting to set up a community tank, you should start just with Bala Sharks and slowly introduce other fish species over time. They are a placid and peaceful fish and can live with other similar sized species such as Gourami, Rasboras and Corys. Temperament is also important. Avoid semi-aggressive or territorial species.
Non-fish inhabitant such as shrimp are not suitable as Bala Sharks are omnivorous. Your Shrimp will likely be eaten or injured. You should not breed other fish in your community tank as your Balas will eat the fry.
Aquarium Mates Per Bala Shark Size
When considering Bala Shark tank mates, you must take into consideration the side of your Bala Shark. Check out this short 3 minute video for specifics on tank mates.
Bala Shark FAQ
- How big will a Bala shark get?
An adult Bala Shark will grow to 12 or 13 inches.
- Are Bala sharks aggressive?
They are not aggressive with other Balas or fish of a similar size, but they may eat smaller fish, fish fry or non-fish species like shrimp.
- Why do Bala sharks die so easily?
They are very sensitive to water parameters, so keeping these stable is important. They are also prone to digestive disorders if fed a low-quality diet. Since Balas grow quite big, small tanks can cause stress related illnesses.
- Do Bala sharks bite?
No, they do not bite other similar sized fish, however, smaller fish may be attacked.
- Are Bala sharks friendly?
Yes, they are friendly and peaceful with other Balas or fish of a similar size and temperament to themselves.
- How many Bala sharks should I keep together?
At least 4 as they are a schooling species. 6 is the ideal number, but they require a large aquarium. 45 gallons per Bala is recommended, so a group of 6 would need a tank of at least 270 gallons.
- Do Bala sharks play dead?
There is no research to suggest that they play dead, but they do tend to drift at night when the lights are switch off. If your Bala looks like he is playing dead, it is more likely he has eaten too much or has a swim bladder issue.
Bala Sharks are a great fish to keep in a freshwater aquarium, but they are not suitable for a standard sized tank. Many people purchase them as juveniles when they are around 3-4 inches and are unaware how big they will grow.
You will need to upgrade your aquarium as your Balas grow, or start off with the aquarium size they will need as an adult. Your tank will need to be a minimum of 4 feet long, but 6 feet is ideal since they are schooling fish, so you will want to keep a few of them together.
Keeping your water parameters stable and feeding a high-quality flake or pellet alongside live food will provide your Balas with everything they need to be healthy and happy.