Bala shark

Bala shark or silver shark (lat. Balantiocheilos melanopterus) is a freshwater species belonging to Carp family. The fish can be encountered in waters of South-East Asia and it is threatened with extinction. It’s quite a popular tank fish due to its likeness to a real shark. However, in fact, bala shark has nothing in common with them.

Habitat in the wild

The fish is native to South-East Asia. Habitat is in the Mekong and Chao Phraya river basins, on Malaysian peninsula, Kalimantan and Sumatra islands.

The fish prefers clean rivers and streams with fast water flow, since slow flows are not for it. Sadly, bala shark has become extinct in lots of its natural habitats.


Body is thin and slender, flattened from sides. The head is small, eyes are very large, and the fish has inferior mouth with no barbs.

The scales are very large, fins are sickle-shaped. The dorsal is tall and vertical, its fluke is bifurcated. Body is silver steel colored, large scales create sparkles. In pet shops as a rule you see the fish about 5 cm long (2 in). But don’t be fooled with this small size, because these are just juveniles.

In the wild this fish can grow to become 40 cm long (16 in), and in captivity the size may be up to 25 cm (10 in).

Since the fish is quite large it requires a spacious tank. If the tank is not spacious enough for the fish, lifespan will be much shorter than it should and the fish will feel uncomfortable all the time.

Lifespan can be about 5-6 years.

Difficulties in keeping

The fish is not a demanding one, but the thing is that it should be kept in a school, and the fish grows to become a large one.

To keep the school of 6 species you’ll need a very large tank, not less than 150 cm (5 ft) long.

Keeping in a tank

Scientific NameBalantiocheilos melanopterus
Common NameBala shark, silver shark, bala fish, tri color shark
Tank sizenot less than 150 cm (5 ft) long and more
Temperature22–28°C (72–82°F)
Size25 cm (10 in)

Fish is prone to get stressed: when getting very scared it may even die. After buying the fish, be ready – it’ll behave rather nervously.

The fish may refuse from food and hide. This happens because the fish is usually brought right from its natural habitat, i.e. from real open waters. Therefore, when getting into a tank bala shark gets stressed and starts looking for a place to hide.

Keep this in mind and create in advance some hide-places, which will allow the fish adapt to a new life conditions and survive relocation.

You can improve the appetite of the fish which refuses from food by active water renew (up to 30-40% every day) and by raising the tank water temperature 2-3 degrees.

Some time later, when the fish gets stronger and starts hungrily eating their food, you can decrease the water temperature back to normal value and then reduce the number of water renews to the ordinary schedule.

The main thing for bala shark is sufficient amount of tank space. The large size completely corresponds to its high activity. Plus, the fish should be kept in a school of 6 species at least. Tank has to be rather wide and not less than 150 cm (5 ft) long.

For juveniles the tank capacity should be at least 200 liters (52,83 gal), but the advisable tank size in this case is 600 liters (158,5 gal).

When the fish is lack of space its growth slows down and its life span significantly reduces. The tank must be closed from top: fish excessive activity or fright may lead to the fish jump out of the tank and death as a result.

As for the tank decorations – don’t put too many decorations and plants. You can use some stones and snags, but again, not too many.

The fish requires a lot of space to swim, so it’s better to put tank decorations along the tank perimeter.

Choose tank plants with thick leaves and strong root system – soft leaved plants will be attacked and harmed by the fish. As for the tank bottom substrate color, it’s better to be dark: on such background the fish will look much better.

Fish prefers natural light, for the fish the light day is 8-10 hours.

In the wild this inhabits in clean waters, that’s why when keeping it in a tank you’ll require perfect filtration system creating sufficient water flow and good aeration. Here are tank water requirements:

  • temperature — 22–28°C (72–82°F);
  • pH: 6.0–8.0;
  • water hardness — 5.0–12.0 dGH;
  • it’s desirable to renew 1/3 of the tank water volume every week.


Food can be live or artificial one. Plant food additives are quite necessary for the proper diet. Bala shark takes the food in the water layer; it eats food from the tank bottom less enthusiastically.

It’s not recommended to feed with blood worm since the stomach may fail digesting its chitinous shell, as a result the whole digestive system may be harmed.

To keep the fish healthy you should control its diet and don’t feed it with the same king of food all the time. Bala shark is very gluttonous, so sometimes you should arrange some hunger days for it.

Compatibility and tank mates

Bala shark is a peaceful daytime fish, it is rather tolerant to its tank mates, however when choosing tank mates focus on your tank size, since it has to stay spacious enough for all fishes and it shouldn’t be overcrowded.

Always keep in mind adult fish size: though the fish isn’t a predator itself, it may eat its small tank mates.

That’s why it’s not a good idea to keep bala shark together with neon tetra, harlequin rasbora, guppy and other small fishes.

Bala shark is quite good for large community tanks, since it doesn’t deal with fish that is sufficiently larger. Is rather timid fish, but it is fast and it’s a good jumper, that’s why you should be careful when cleaning the tank bottom or catching the fish in the tank.

In general species gets used to its new environmental conditions during a month. It prefers to live in a school of 5-7 species, but if the tank size doesn’t allow to keep such a large school, try to keep at least 2-3 species – if the fish is alone in the tank quite often it’s aggressive.

As we’ve already mentioned large and small fishes can be tank mates, just avoid very small fishes, juveniles, large cichlid species like Jack Dempsey (large predators may nip fins), territory dependent and slow fishes.

Sex differences

Female is larger and it has more rounded body. It is rather difficult to define juveniles’ sex.

In captivity the fish becomes reproductive only at the age of 3 years old being not less than 13 cm (5 in) long.


Unfortunately, breeding is impossible in captivity. Hormones injections are used to stimulate spawning.

Size of the tank where the fish used to live and grow has to be not less than 1.5 m long and its capacity should be about 1500 l (400 gal).