Bala Shark 101: Care, Diet, Tank Size, Tank Mates & More

Studying aquatic life can be a lifelong hobby. There are many species of sea creatures, each with their own unique set of characteristics. Sea life is fascinating and one such creature of the water is the Bala shark.

The Bala shark has kept aquatic enthusiasts intrigued for centuries, so let’s look deeper into why they are such interesting creatures. 

Species Summary 

The Bala shark is a member of the Cyprinida family and is a freshwater fish that has its roots in Southeast Asia, residing in large rivers and lakes. They were also found in Thailand. Sumatra and Borneo. Over the years, Balas have almost disappeared from some regions and are now extinct in some areas. 

In the Far East, Balas are commercially farm bred and given hormones to assist reproduction. All Balas found in Aquariums have been bred this way. 

Although called a shark, Balas share no behavioral traits of traditional sharks. The name is simply on account of their body shape and triangular fin. They are also large, so aquarium owners should factor this in when choosing to breed Balas.

If not being bred in an aquarium, Balas can survive and thrive in large ponds, but only in warm locations. They are susceptible to low temperatures, especially in the water.

Balas are currently on the endangered list as the population is declining and has reduced by 50% in the last 10 years.  There is much debate over what is causing the decline, but some theories include river damming and pollution.

Overfishing is also common, and water contamination that disrupts their habitat could be to blame. Human intervention through captivity breeding is assisting the retention of these amazing creatures. 

Care guide 

Raising Balas in captivity is a great way to help prevent extinction and make a wonderful addition to any aquarium. How can you look after them and give them the care they need? 

Tank size

Tank size should start at 45 gallons (0.17 m³) and be increased gradually as the shark grows. A 5 foot (1.5 m) tank would be ideal. A good rule of thumb is 45 gallons (0.17 m³) of water per fish. 

Tank mate

Balas are a non-aggressive fish and can happily reside with other large peaceful fish. Choose fish with similar temperaments and avoid carnivorous fish or small species. Smaller fish are likely to be eaten. 

Ensure tanks and aquariums are not overcrowded, as this will be an uncomfortable environment for Balas. 

Same species tanks 

Several Balas in one aquarium is ideal, but ensure the tank is large enough to accommodate them. It has been suggested that keeping 4 Balas together with enough space is ideal, eliminating any potential aggression. 

Water parameters 

Tank water should be renewed by one third each week. Temperature should be maintained at 22-28 degrees C, pH 6-8 and hardness 5-12 DGH.

The right filtration system is vital, so water movement is consistent, and oxygen levels remain high. 

What to put in their tank 

Unlike many other fish, Balas require very little additional tank accessories. The most important factor is for them to have space to swim. You can add a few plants, but best to keep them at the edge. Fish like natural light, so a simple tank lamp is enough and the bottom of the tank should be left dark. 

Common diseases 

Balas are pretty tough creatures but are prone to common diseases facing fish such as ICH, dropsy, and parasites. They are, however, sensitive to low water quality, so it’s crucial to keep the tank in good condition. 

If Balas becomes sick, you should remove from the community tank and move somewhere separate whilst treatment is underway. If the whole tank is diseased, then treat the tank as a whole.

It’s useful to contact an experienced aquatic breeder for advice when treating fish, as it can be a fragile process and should be approached with care. 

Food and diet 

In the wild, Balas will eat a varied diet consisting of plants, maggots, algae, shrimp etc. They do love their food and aren’t generally too fussy, but it’s important to feed them high quality artificial food designed specifically for their dietary needs.

Plant food is important for Balas and should be included in every meal. They can be given blood worms as an occasional treat. 

Bala’s diet should be controlled, as they don’t self-regulate; they would eat all day every day if you let them. Feeding should be little and often, such as 2-3 times a day.

Another reason to avoid overfeeding is that wasted food that falls to the bottom of the tank will raise notate levels as well as ammonium, which is detrimental to water quality. 


Bala sharks have the benefit of longevity. They tend to live longer in the wild, but with the correct care they are expected to live up to 10 years in a tank. 


Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of a Bala is its dorsal fin. This is the one characteristic it shares with a shark and why it has been classified a shark. It also has a long body that moves gracefully through the water. 

The Bala’s body is gray with a darker hue at the top, and the fins have yellow stripes. Their ventral fins are small, with a smaller anal fin. They have a metallic silver torso and a slightly yellow tail.

Their colorful bodies have also earned them the name of the tricolor shark. It’s beautiful to watch how the light reflects off their bodies and produces an ethereal effect; the angels of the sea, it could be said.  

In addition, Balas are also known for their big eyes, an adaptation that has occurred to help them hunt for food. 

When kept in an aquarium for show, it’s useful to place plants and food along the periphery, as they will provide a wonderful visual display that will delight aquarium visitors. 


The Balas usually reach 14 inches (ca. 36 cm) in the wild and are slightly smaller when raised in a tank. 

Behavior & Temperament

As mentioned earlier, Bala sharks are gentle and peaceful. They are active fish and will demonstrate beautiful displays in an aquarium. When first settling into a new tank, they can be timid and less active, this usually lasts only a few weeks before they become more confident. When nervous, Balas will hide in tanks behind plants and roots.

Balas are social creatures and will bond quickly with tank mates once they trust them. They are very tolerant of most fish, but smaller aggressive breeds should be avoided as companions. 


Breeding Balas is fairly simple, but there are several factors to bear in mind. You should keep breeding sharks in a different tank. To prepare the tank for spawning, aquariums should have 65 gallons (0.25 m³) of water at a temperature of 77 degrees Fahrenheit (ca. 25 °C). Make sure there is plenty of space and limit tank decorations. 

Spawning can be assisted by increasing the tank temperature gradually, but ensure this is a careful process, or it will have the opposite effect. Hormone injections are also used to initiate spawning. A net should be placed at the bottom of the tank and typically, spawning happens early in the morning and lasts 2-3 hours. 

Females produce 5000-10000 eggs at a time and will drop them around the tank to be fertilized by the male. Balas provide no protection for young ones and once their job is done they will move on and forget about eggs.

Once spawning has finished, breeders should be removed from the tank. Eggs take 2 days to incubate. Juveniles start to swim together in schools around 3-4 days after hatching and grow extremely quickly. By 3 years old, if tank conditions are maintained well, they can grow 15 cms.  

Gender differences: male vs. female

Male and female Balas don’t look dissimilar, however, females tend to be larger and more rounded than males. And males are slightly more angular.  Behavioral differences are only apparent during mating, where both play their individual role in the process. 

Balas are ready for reproduction by the time they reach puberty at 3 years old. 

Fun Facts

  • The Bala shark’s official name is ‘Hangus Ekor’ which originates in Malaysia and means ‘burnt tail’
  • Balas will eat anything that is small enough for their mouths
  • If they get spooked, they can jump right out of their tanks. All tanks should have a tight cover, in case Balas can’t get scared. 
  • They have been known to make audible sounds. 
  • Balas have been known to eat the eggs they produce 
  • If there is an outbreak of ICH in a tank, Balas will alert attention by rubbing scales on the rocks at the bottom 
  • It’s true to say that Bala sharks are unique creatures and a pleasure to raise and observe. In the right conditions, they will thrive and live to a ripe old age. Gentle and interesting, they make a great addition to any aquarium and will delight observers and sea life lovers everywhere.