Bala Shark Guide

We independently research our recommended products. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our links.

Among many other fish species, the bala shark is a sure favorite for people who own tropical aquariums.

It’s not surprising that the bala fish is a beautiful addition to any tank, no matter what look you’re trying to achieve.

silver shark
By The Reptilarium (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 licence)

They’re small, silver fish with long tails, able to swim fast over large areas of water. Other than their need for a large tank, bala shark care is relatively easy to handle, and they get along with a large number of other fish species.

The Bala Shark: Fish or Shark?

Despite its name, however, the bala shark is not really a shark. Rather, the bala shark is a freshwater fish, with a small, flat, torpedo-shaped body and long, large fins.

Due to the shape of their body and fins, they have the same silhouette like that of a shark.

The bala shark’s scientific name is Balantiocheilos melanopterus. Its other names include tricolor shark, tricolor shark minnow, shark minnow, and silver shark.


In the wild, the bala shark lives in rivers, as well as some large and medium-sized freshwater lakes. They originally came from Southeast Asia, in the waters of countries like Thailand, Borneo, and Sumatra.

Unfortunately, due to their diminishing habitat and lack of food sources, the bala shark can be rarely found in the wild.

There is evidence that points to bala sharks not being completely extinct in some areas. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) lists the bala shark as endangered, which means that this species faces extinction in the near future.

Sadly, the population of bala sharks has decreased by half in the last ten years. Thankfully, their rise in popularity in freshwater aquariums may be a good move towards their conservation.

Popularizing this species can get people talking about them and develop more traction for their conservation in the wild.

bala shark size

Of course, as with all species, it is best to be mindful about where you source your bala sharks. If you’re planning to buy this species for your aquarium, make sure that you are getting your fish from ethical sources.


While the shape of the bala shark makes it easy to mistake it for a real shark, it’s coloring is also reminiscent of most sharks.

It has a shiny, metallic, silver body with distinct, black markings on its fins.

While its head is small, its eyes are noticeably large. These large eyes are used by bala sharks to spot and hunt prey in the wild.

Bala Shark Lifespan

Like with all pets, the bala shark will live a longer life if it’s adequately cared for. With the right food and environment, the bala shark can live up to ten years on average in captivity.

Sometimes, when a bala shark is well taken care of, it can live even longer. Thankfully, aside from the large space that they need, the bala shark isn’t a fussy species and can do well in a wide range of environments.

Bala Shark Size

While at first glance the bala shark seems like they would be easy for beginners, their size makes things a bit harder.

Bala sharks grow a lot bigger than they are as juveniles, and as an aquarium owner, you will need to clean a bigger tank.

Unfortunately, the accommodations they need due to their size is also one of the most overlooked and misunderstood things about bala sharks.

How Big Do They Get?

The common misunderstanding when it comes to the size of a bala shark stems from their displays in fish shops, as these shops sell their fish as juveniles.

This is all well and good for most species, as juvenile fish usually don’t grow very much when they mature.

full grown bala shark
By C Watts (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 licence)

This isn’t the case with bala sharks, which can become up to seven times their size at maturity – a very surprising result for the unsuspecting aquarium owner.

When you first see bala sharks in fish shops, they will be at around two inches in length. A full grown bala shark usually reaches 14 inches in length but can grow up to 25 inches in captivity.

What Size Aquarium Bala Sharks Need?

When it comes to giving your bala sharks a house, the consensus is that the bigger, the better.

Other than the significantly huge growth spurt that your fish will undergo, there are two main reasons why you should consider a bigger tank for your bala shark.

  1. Bala sharks should be in a group

Sure, bala sharks are large, but you probably need a bigger tank than the one you’re thinking of right now. This is primarily because bala sharks should be kept in a group.

They are naturally a schooling fish, which means that they need to have at least two (but preferably four) other companions of their species with them in the tank. Otherwise, this can lead to stress (and, consequentially, illness).

  1. Bala sharks are fast swimmers

For really small fish, bala sharks are very fast swimmers. The shape of their bodies and their large fins let them cover large distances in a small amount of time, darting from one end of your aquarium to the other.

For this reason, they’re a lovely species to look at, especially when they have a large enough area. Giving your bala shark enough space to swim around in, while ensuring that they won’t be bumping into any sharp objects that could harm them, will ensure a long and happy life.

With all that in mind, how big of a tank do your bala fish really need? Of course, juveniles will do well with a smaller tank of around 30 gallons.

However, you should make sure to transfer them to larger tanks, so they have adequate space as they age.

Starting out with a smaller tank and then transferring your fish can be a hassle, though. To save yourself the effort, it’s advised to start with a tank that can accommodate fully grown bala sharks from the very beginning.

So How Big Should Tanks for Mature Bala Sharks Be?

According to Fish Base, bala sharks should be kept in 150-gallon tanks. This is to ensure that they will have enough space to live long and healthy lives.

bala shark lifespan
By Gogo78 (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 licence)

Of course, if you’re planning to add more fish to your aquarium, make sure to also account for their own living space.

Tank Set-up

If you plan to put bala sharks in your tank, it’s always a good idea to ensure they are put in the right conditions. Otherwise, they will grow sickly, and eventually die.

Here are few things you should consider when setting up a tank for bala fish.

Tank Requirments

Of course, it bears repeating that an adult school of bala sharks should be kept in a tank that can hold at least 150 gallons of water. Because of their swimming behaviors, it would be best to provide your bala sharks with a long tank.

Since they like to dart from one end to another, a longer tank will give them adequate swimming space.

Additionally, keep in mind that bala sharks a very active species. Make sure to put a hood on your tank to ensure that your fish don’t jump out. It’s happened to the best of aquarists and can be very dangerous to your fish!

Water Requirements

Bala sharks can thrive in a wide range of water hardness, namely from soft water to medium-hard water.

When it comes to acidity, the bala shark does well in waters that are slightly acidic, specifically from 6.5 to 7 pH. 

As for temperatures, the bala shark would need a range between 72 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

what do bala sharks eat
By Gogo78 (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 licence)


Bala sharks, especially those that are new to their tank, are prone to stress.  Stress is, of course, something that you want to keep to a minimum.

To mitigate this problem, make sure to provide some good hiding spots for your bala fish. Plants, caves, and even decorations are good hiding places and will help your new fish adjust to their tank.

Other than the necessary hiding spots, try not to put too many decorations inside your tank, so as to leave room for your bala sharks to swim.

Should you want to add more decorations, try placing them closer to the sides of your tank instead of in the middle, so as to ensure that your bala sharks have enough room.

Of course, ensure that your decorations don’t have any sharp edges or rough surfaces, which could allow your bala sharks to cut or scrape themselves.

Finally, matching the environment of their previous tank to your new one would also make the transfer less stressful. As your fish adjusts, gradually shift the tank conditions as well to your own specifications.

Plant Life

While plant life is a good addition to a tank with bala sharks, be mindful about their tendency to bite on soft-bodied plants.

Should you want to add plants, ensure that they are deep-rooting and will hold up to bites.

What do Bala Sharks Eat?

The bala shark is an omnivorous species, able to eat both meat and plant-based food.

In the wild, bala sharks mainly feed on crustaceans, insects, and insect larvae. In captivity, bala sharks will eat live food, such as bloodworms and brine shrimp, as well as prepared fish food, like pellets and tablets.

Feedings should occur multiple times a day for no more than three minutes. Try to feed your bala sharks with a variety of both live and prepared food to ensure a healthy diet.

Here’s a video showing more information on bala shark care.

Bala Shark Tankmates

Other than their wonderful silver coloration, the bala shark is popular due to its nature. They are a peaceful, non-aggressive species, which makes them great tankmates for a large number of other fish species.

However, there are still a few things that you will need to keep in mind when choosing tank mates for a school of bala shark.

While they are a generally peaceful species, there are still instances wherein they will stress out other fish. Prudence and research are necessary before you let your bala sharks mingle with other species.

Here are the two main things you should consider when choosing a tankmate:

Tankmate Size

Size should be considered in two ways. First, is there enough space for the other species?

Remember, bala sharks grow around seven times larger than they are as juveniles. Research the type of fish that you’re eyeing as tank mates and see if their mature sizes will be tame enough for your aquarium.

Second, bala shark may eat smaller fish, especially sleeker ones like neon tetras. As a rule of thumb, try not to keep bala fish in tanks with fish species that are half their size or less.

Tankmate Personalities

Because of their high level of activity, slower fish will most likely be stressed by bala sharks. Bala sharks will also tend to peck at slower fish, especially when they get in their way.

To avoid this, keep bala fish alongside fish species that can keep up with them – ones that have a fast and active personality.

Some good bala shark tankmates  include: fully grown tetras, gouramis, and dwarf cichlids.

Here’s a video showing a bala fish tank with tankmates.

Your New Silver Friend

The bala shark is a wonderful addition to many freshwater tanks. Their friendly nature and metallic coloration make them a top choice for many aquarium owners.

However, they aren’t a species meant for beginners; there are a few things that you should keep in mind when taking care of these silver fish.

Most notably, you will have a bigger job on your hands when it comes to aquarium maintenance, as they need a space larger than most species.

However, as it is with any undertaking, caring for bala sharks has its own rewards. They are a fun, active species. Their high energy and bright silver color make them a lovely group of fish to look at in the right aquarium.

With the proper amount of experience, discipline, and maintenance, the bala fish is a species that you will surely appreciate in your own freshwater tank.

Do you have any tips for taking care of bala fish?

Leave a Comment