The Bala Shark, also known as the Tri-color shark, Tri-color Shark Minnow, Silver Shark, or Shark Minnow, is not an actual shark, but a member of the Carp family just like the koi and goldfish.

Though the fish resembles the marine predator it is named after, it is a sweet and gentle giant. But contrary to popular belief, Bala Sharks are not the easiest fish to care for.

I strongly urge you to read this article before buying one!

Bala Shark Stats

Family: CYPRINIDAE
Species: Balantiocheilus melanopterus
Common Name: Bala Shark, Silver Shark
Size: Up to 16 inches (40 cm) females smaller.
Note: Should not be considered a home aquarium fish, young are always seen for sale and caution should taken before purchasing. It is unfair to subject any animal to less than ideal living conditions.
Habitat: ASIA: Mekong and Chao Phraya river basins, Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo.
Min Tank Size: At least 150 gallons for a school of six.
Diet: Omnivorous, flake, Frozen, live food and pellets.
Behavior: Peaceful and active schooling fish.
Water: Temperature 72°F to 84°F (22-29°C), pH: 5.8 to 7.8, Hardness: Soft to medium. dH range: 5.0 – 15.0
Care: Easy.
Communities: Good, great jumper keep covered.
Suitability: Poor, grows to large for most home aquaria.

Original Habitat and Distribution

Bala Sharks hailed from lakes and rivers of Borneo, Sumatra, and the Malayan Peninsula. Previously known as Barbus melanopterus, it was first described by Bleeker in 1851.

The species was also thought to inhabit the Mekong River and Chao Phraya River in Thailand. But in 2007, Ng and Kottelat confirmed that this was erroneous information.

Due to its eye-catching markings and silver hue, the fish also goes by the monikers Silver Bala, Silver Shark, Tricolor Minnow, or Tricolor Shark.

Are Bala Sharks Extinct?

Thankfully, they aren’t. Still, the Bala Shark has been on the IUCN Red List since 1996. Bala sharks used to be prolific in Southeast Asia, but their numbers have dwindled by over 50% in the past decade. These fish are getting harder to find each day in their native waters. As such, the locals believe that Bala Sharks may have already gone extinct in some regions.

There is no evidence as to what caused this drastic decline, but many people believe that it might be due to overfishing for the aquarium trade. Damming of rivers is also a culprit, as freshwater Bala Sharks are ill-equipped to cope up with the large-scale environmental changes. The ever-increasing water pollution is another factor to consider for the Bala Shark’s demise.

Are Bala Sharks Still Available in the Aquarium Trade?

Fortunately, yes. The specimens sold in the aquarium trade today are exported from hatcheries in Indonesia and Thailand. Breeding is done through the use of hormones.

Physical Characteristics

As with marine sharks, Bala Sharks have torpedo-shaped bodies and upright triangular-shaped dorsal fins, but that’s where the resemblance ends.

Appearance

Just like the goldfish and its other cousins, the Bala Shark has well-defined scales with a gradient silver metallic sheen. The color darkens toward the top and fades at the bottom. The fish has large black eyes, which are presumably adapted for hunting.

While its pectoral fins are opaque, its dorsal, abdominal, anal, and caudal fins have yellowish markings. Additionally, each of these fins is edged in black. This tri-color scheme of silver, yellow, black gives rise to its nickname, the Tri-color shark.

Size

Bala sharks are often sold very young in pet stores, usually when they are still about 3 to 4 inches long. Unless an attendant breaks it down for you, you might get the impression that these guys are small enough to fit in a standard size tank.

What isn’t readily apparent is that these cute sharks can grow over a foot long by the end of their first year and they will continue to grow until they reach their maximum length of 10 or 14 inches. Since Bala Sharks are schooling fish, you will need an enormous tank to keep a bunch of these 14-inch sharks in your tank.

Life Expectancy

Bala Sharks can live up to a decade or a little longer, granted that they live in ideal water conditions and receive an optimal diet.

Behavior and Temperament

These silver tail sharks might look intimidating, but they are a far cry from the marine predators you see in the sea or on TV.

Bala Sharks Like Company

Bala Sharks are shy and skittish upon their arrival, but they acclimate to their new home faster when kept in a group. So, consider purchasing a school of 4 or 5 juveniles when starting out.

As a shoaling species, these fish would bond together as they forage for food, evade predators, and search for mates in the wild. Bala Sharks need to be with their kind lest they develop unhealthy behaviors that could lead to their untimely demise.

But once a group has been established, it’s wise not to get another batch of Bala Sharks even if you have a humongous tank. A pecking order will emerge and the dominant ones will pick on the inferior group.

Are Bala Sharks Aggressive?

No. Bala Sharks are a peaceful species. But when kept singly, the fish may act out as an adult as a way to defend itself.

Delivering Entertainment Value

Bala Sharks will become more active once they get accustomed to their new environment. You’ll see them swimming together in close clusters, thereby improving the visual impact of your tank. Sometimes, they would mimic each other’s movements, which is amusing to watch. Chow time also makes Balas excited.

Are Bala Sharks Suicidal?

There has been a lot of reports about Bala Sharks swimming up and down, playing dead, and ramming against the glass walls. These erratic behaviors often occur when the parameters are off or when there isn’t much space for them to swim.

Bala Sharks Will Jump Out of the Tank

One of the leading reasons Bala Sharks die prematurely in home aquariums is their tendency to leap out of the water. Balas are graceful, powerful swimmers but when they get spooked, they would jump in a blink of an eye.

In the wild, jumping makes for an excellent defense mechanism. It provides fish a temporary escape from their predators. But in captivity, jumping can only result in landing on the floor or getting eaten by the indoor cat. Therefore, you’ll need to get a tight-fitting lid to contain your Balas.

📌 If your Bala manages to jump out of the tank and it developed a white spot on its eye, you’ll need to add some STRESS COAT water conditioner each time you make water changes. This will restore the slime coat of its eyes.

Do Bala Sharks Eat Small Fish?

Yes. Bala Sharks may start eating small fish as they reach their adult size. Harlequin Rasboras, Neon Tetras, guppies, danios, and other small fish types are easily mistaken as food. These opportunistic feeders also love to snack on snails, which are a part of their diet in the wild.

Tank Mates

Bala Sharks are neither aggressive nor territorial.

These congenial species can cohabitate with an array of fish, including:

  • Angelfish
  • Black Ghost Knife Fish
  • Blood Parrot Cichlid
  • Boeseman’s Rainbowfish
  • Common Pleco Fish
  • Clown Loach
  • Discus Fish
  • Kissing Gourami
  • Fancy Goldfish
  • Tetras
  • Tinfoil Barbs

As mentioned earlier, Bala Sharks may eat small fish that are small enough to fit in their mouth. Hence, species that are 2 inches or smaller should be avoided as tankmates. Also, avoid predatory species, like Arowanas, large cichlids, and pufferfish.

Breeding

Breeding Bala Sharks is not easily achieved due to their space requirements that the average aquarist is unable to provide. What’s more, they are difficult to sex. Professional breeders, on the other hand, are more than capable of creating environments designed to cater to the needs of this large group.

To complicate matters, Bala Sharks aren’t the best parents. Females do not pay attention to the eggs once they have been laid and fertilized. Males do not provide protection for their young. In fact, both males and females would eat their eggs and newly hatched fry.

Bala Shark Care Guide

To optimize your pet’s health and reach the 10-year Bala Sharks’ lifespan, you’ll need to feed your fish the appropriate diet at the right time and be mindful of the water conditions they are in.

Diet

Bala Sharks are opportunistic omnivores. In the wild, they feed on fry, insect larva, small crustaceans, rotifers (microscopic aquatic animals), as well as algae, phytoplankton, and plant detritus. Although these fish will accept anything edible, you’ll want to feed your pets a high-quality diet to help them reach their full potential.

Offer your pets algae flakes or spirulina pellets for the core of their diet. Likewise, provide your Bala Sharks protein in the form of live/frozen/dried bloodworms, brine shrimp, Daphnia, insect larva, or shrimp eggs. To diversify their diet, you’ll want to add diced fruits and blanched vegetables, such as apples, carrots, peas, and spinach.

Bala Sharks will need 2 to 3 small portions of food each day.

📌 Take note: Adult Bala Sharks might hog all the food and not leave much to their tank mates. You’ll want to keep tabs on your pets while they are eating, so everyone gets their share.

Water Parameters

Like I mentioned earlier, Bala Sharks are nearly nonexistent due to the environmental changes in their natural habitat. That alone should give you an idea of how vulnerable these critters are. For that reason, you’ll need to be extra careful of the water conditions.

The first piece of the puzzle is the water temperature. Bala Sharks do well when the water is anywhere between 76° to 80° F. You can easily accomplish this by using an aquarium heater. Next is the alkalinity. The safe range is between 6.5 and 8 pH. Anything outside of that bracket may cause serious health complications to your Bala Shark.

Being able to consistently keep the water hardness is also a key piece to this puzzle. The safe window is between 10 and 13, but you should always aim for 12 dGH.

Maintenance

Make it a habit to monitor these levels using a water testing kit to prevent yourself from having to deal with unpleasant surprises. Equally important, you need to renew 25% to 30% of the water every week to keep ammonia and nitrate levels down.

📌 It takes time for Bala Sharks to settle in their new home. Hence, you’ll have to wait for a few days to a month before you can make water changes.

Disease

There are no specific illnesses that affect Bala Sharks, but these fish may get Ich, which is pretty common among tropical freshwater fish. Ich is a parasitic disease characterized by small white spots on a fish’s scales. The affected fish will scratch itself against decorations in an attempt to get rid of the parasites. Luckily though, there are plenty of over-the-counter medications to treat this condition.

Tank Setup: Size, Decorations, and Equipment

Before you bring your new fishy friends home, you need to make sure your tank setup is 100% complete. If there’s a missing plant or a misplaced terra cotta pot, you’ll need to wait a few days or even a month to fix it! As discussed earlier, Balas take some to cozy up to their new habitat.

Size

Up till now, hobbyists continue to dispute the ideal Bala Shark aquarium size. One hundred fifty gallons is the common suggested size, although experts believe that Bala Sharks are simply too large and too active to be kept in home aquariums.

Given the Bala Sharks’ size, shoaling behavior, and activity levels, you’ll definitely need a ginormous tank. Remember, each Bala Shark could grow over a foot and you’ll want to purchase a group of 4 or 5.

That said, you’ll either use a 150-gallon tank exclusively for Bala Sharks or opt for a 250-gallon tank if you wish to add a few compatible species. Better yet, hire a professional to build you a customized tank if you have the budget.

I highly suggest you get the largest tank possible to prevent unwanted behaviors. An indoor pond is also a feasible solution, but it is better suited for intermediate aquarists.

Plants and Decorations

By now, you might be asking yourself, “How can I make my aquarium look better?” Bala Sharks aren’t too keen on decorations, but as juveniles, they do need plenty of hiding places. For an effective display, consider adding piles of bogwood or driftwood and small rock formations. Be sure to add these ornaments along the edges of your tank, so there is ample swimming space in the center.

Plants are also an excellent addition to your tank, as they help increase the oxygen levels and absorb ammonia. Since Bala Sharks are omnivores, you’ll need to choose your plants wisely.

Among your best options include:

  • Anubias
  • Amazon Frogbit
  • Amazon Sword
  • Cabomba
  • Hornwort
  • Java fern
  • Water sprite
  • Egeria
  • Myriophyllum

These plants aren’t bothered by most fish and they are easy to care for. You should also place the plants on the corners so that they don’t hog up swimming space.

Substrate

You may keep the bottom bare for easy maintenance, but a dark-colored substrate will help bring out their colors. You can use aquatic soil, sand, or gravel.

Equipment

Albeit expensive, a canister filter is the best choice for your 150-gallon tank. This type of filter removes chemicals, biological toxins, and detritus better than power filters and sumps. Likewise, it offers more flexibility and demands less maintenance than the two.

While a canister generates water movement, it’s better to get a powerhead, as well. Bala Sharks are riverine species, so they appreciate moderate currents that a powerhead can easily provide.

The following are also handy to have:

  • Powered hose-and-gravel vacuum system
  • Moonlight for nighttime viewing
  • UV sanitizer
  • Plant fertilizer(s) or CO2 injection system

Lastly, you’ll need a close-fitting lid for your tank to prevent your Bala Sharks from jumping out of the tank.

Conclusion

Bala Sharks are challenging to care for, with most of the hard work coming from the initial tank setup and ongoing maintenance.

Here’s a quick wrap-up:

  • You’ll need to invest in a 250-gallon tank (or larger) complete with the right equipment. Bala Sharks will flip out and injure themselves if they don’t find their tank comfortable enough.
  • Balas are easily stressed by poor water conditions. A robust filter, powerhead, and a high-quality gravel vacuum/hose system are essential to make maintenance a less arduous task.
  • Bala Sharks make a wonderful community fish. You can keep them with smaller fish, as long as they aren’t small enough to fit in a Bala’s mouth.
  • Frequent water changes and tests are crucial. A school of sizable Bala Sharks, plus a few compatible species can quickly overload your tank.

Hopefully, you find this article helpful. I strongly urge you to please weigh the advantages and disadvantages of taking care of this species before you make a purchase.

The last thing we want to happen is another fish getting euthanized or dropped into local waterways. Best of luck!

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