The bala shark (Balantiocheilos melanopterus), also known as the tricolor shark, or the silver shark, is a large minnow, that unsurprisingly isn’t actually a shark. It is often referred to as a shark due to its torpedo shaped body and prominent dorsal fin, but is part of the Cyprinidae family
It is native to Sumatra, Borneo and the Malay Peninsula, though it is rapidly disappearing from those habitats. The wild population of the bala shark has declined by more than 50% in the last decade, and it is currently listed as endangered on the ICUN Red List. It is not believed that the aquarium trade is responsible for this decline, since nearly all bala sharks available are breed on Asian fish farms.
The bala shark is primarily found in rivers and lakes, though they are more commonly found in rivers. They have a preference for relatively deep water, and are only found in large rivers and lakes.
This fish can grow to tank busting sizes in the home aquarium, and it’s not uncommon for one to grow to 14 inches (35 cm) in captivity. If it is provided with excellent conditions and a spacious tank, a bala shark can live up to ten years – though most live far shorter lives, since they are often kept in cramped and dirty conditions.
Bala sharks are widely available in fish stores, but they share a spot with goldfish as one of the most misunderstood fish in the hobby. When you find them for sale, they are often only around 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) in length, and at that size they will still fit most home aquariums.
Problems arise as they begin to rapidly grow, and they will quickly outgrow all but the largest aquariums. In fact, many people insist that this fish can only truly thrive in a massive custom built tank – far larger than anything commercially available. And they may be right. This is a very active fish, which grows to a massive size, and must be kept in groups of at least five.
If bala sharks are kept in groups of less than five, you will quickly find yourself facing some major aggression issues. They establish a hierarchy in their tank, and in a small group, the dominant fish’s aggression will only be directed at one or two fish. When they are kept in larger groups, this aggression is spread out among the other fish, and only rarely causes problems.
Not only must this shoaling species be kept in groups of at least five, but it also extremely sensitive to any waste in the aquarium. They absolutely must have pristine water at all times, and any organic waste will quickly sicken or even kill this fish.
Bala sharks also prefer a significant amount of current in their tank, and the tank should be set up in such a way that it emphasizes swimming space over decorations and plants. Ideally, the tank should be set up as a riverine tank, with rocks for the substrate, and pieces of driftwood for decoration.
It should also be noted that bala sharks are noted jumpers, and any tank containing them must have a lid. If you don’t keep them in a covered tank, you will quickly start to discover sharks on the floor around your aquarium.
When choosing a filter, it’s imperative that you over filter the tank as much as possible. You can accomplish this through the use of multiple hang on back filters, or through very large canister filters. Regardless of what you choose, it is generally in your best interest to use multiple filters to maintain the water quality at the level that they require.
If you decide to use to a hang on back filter, I would strongly recommend that you use an AquaClear Power Filter. This is a highly durable filter, which provides excellent filtration even on larger tanks. You can read the Aquarium Tidings Aquaclear Power Filter Review here.
Bala sharks are omnivores, and in the wild, they primarily feed on crustaceans, insects, larvae and algae. They have a voracious appetite in the home aquarium, and will accept just about anything that you offer them. They should regularly be fed a high quality flake food, along with live or frozen foods, and plenty of fresh vegetables. One of the best prepared foods to offer them is Hikari Micro Wafers, which I personally use for most of my fish.
Their favorite live foods are bloodworms, blackworms, earthworms, daphnia and mosquito larvae. They have similar tastes when it comes to frozen foods, and they can be fed frozen bloodworms, blackworms, daphia and brine shrimp.
It’s important to supplement their diet regularly with vegetables, and they can be fed blanched zucchini and cucumber medallions, shelled peas, and lettuce. You can also experiment by offering them some fruit, though vegetables are generally enough for this fish.
At this time, it is generally accepted that no one has successfully bred bala sharks in the home aquarium. They are currently bred on Asian fish farms through the use of hormones.