Bala Shark: What First-Time Fish Collectors Need to Know

When we think of the word “shark,” we might imagine Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster monster “Jaws”—a bulky, big great white that roams the ocean in search of fresh blood. However, the bala shark is not like these sharks at all! They’re called sharks because their smaller bodies are similar to ocean sharks.

The Balantiocheilus melanopterus is typically found in the rushing rivers of Southeast Asia. In Malaysia, where they originated, they’re commonly called Hangus Ekor, meaning “burnt tail.” They’re also known as the Silver Bala or the Tricolor Shark. 

However, this little thing is not what you think a shark might be like! It has a high dorsal fin and a similar body type to a shark, but it is much smaller in size and a popular pet choice for those who have an aquarium.


While the bala shark is named after its similarities with a shark, it is not a shark. It has a large triangular dorsal fin and a streamlined body that makes its appearance shark-like. It has a silver body with well-defined scales, usually coming in a tri-color of silver, yellow, and black. Its distinguishing features include its large eyes, a yellow-tinged tail, and ink-black fins.

Bala sharks tend to be around 3 to 4 inches as a juvenile. Upon maturity, most adult of them can reach about 13 inches! As your pet bala shark grows, getting a bigger aquarium is recommended for their comfort. 

In Aquariums 

These fish love to interact with their environment! They love zipping around and hiding in their favorite spots. Make sure to watch your pet fish closely to see if they are compatible with their other tank mates.

The bala shark is known to get along pretty well with other fish. Despite their scary name, they are very timid fish! But make sure that your pet fish isn’t sharing a tank with smaller fish they could eat. 

Here are some of the best tank mates for your bala shark:

  • tinfoil barbs
  • boesemani rainbowfish
  • emerald rainbowfish
  • clown loaches
  • angelfish
  • other bala sharks

A bala shark is a huge commitment for first-time fish collectors. It’s because these fish can grow immensely! So having an extra-large aquarium is a requirement. It is recommended to get an aquarium from 120 to 150 gallons.

Some aquariums can be sanitized with a 3% bleach solution and then rinsed with water. You can do this once every two weeks to ensure that your fish aren’t swimming around in their muck!

bala shark

Bala sharks may be shy, but they are still quite active. Many fish owners keep a lid on top of their tank to keep them from jumping out.

Because the bala shark’s natural habitat is found in the rushing rivers, they’d love an environment that can emulate these qualities! Your aquarium will need a lot of fast and moving water and moderate lighting. Fast and moving water will need a strong filtration system and a quality filter for your tank. Keeping a variety of plants around the edges of your tank is an ideal choice, as they love to swim around in a lot of space.

The ideal plants to keep around your tank are:

  • anubias
  • Java fern
  • Java moss
  • Amazon swords
  • floating plants

Bala Sharks as an Endangered Species

The bala shark was first discovered by Pieter Bleeker in 1850. In the last 10 years, its population has decreased by over 50%. In 1996, it was listed under the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. Most of the specimens you will find nowadays are commercially bred.


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Currently, the bala shark faces major issues, with its native freshwater habitat being threatened by pollution and deforestation. But many say its cause is mainly due to the aquarium trade. Many fish collectors have targeted breeding adults of this species, drastically reducing its population to near extinction.

Many believe that the aquarium industry may be to blame for the endangered status of the bala shark. Others think that deforestation and pollution are the cause. But whatever the case, the bala shark was, at one point, a populous species in Southeast Asia. 

With this in mind, if you’re planning to get a bala shark for your aquarium, practice due diligence. You’ll need to make sure that the store you’re getting your bala shark from is legitimate and has ethical practices.

Caring for Your Bala Shark

The bala shark is a perfect addition to your aquarium. Its colorfully fascinating features make it a wonderful pet to have. Their stunning appearance and playful nature will make a fantastic addition to your tank!

Moreover, a bala shark can be easy to take care of, provided you have basic knowledge of fish care. Bala sharks are a relatively healthy species. But you should know how to keep your aquarium clean with a stable water temperature.

Additionally, make sure to notice when your bala shark has a disease. Observe if they have some noticeable white spots on their scale and if they tend to rub furiously against rocks and gravel. This disease is called ich and needs to be treated by a veterinarian immediately.


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Final Thoughts

Keep in mind that a bala shark is a special fish due to its endangered status. So, not a lot of them are available in their natural habitat. It’s also important to understand why many fish in the aquarium trade industry have forced other fish out of their natural habitat. While fish collecting can be a great hobby, it’s crucial to spread awareness about endangered animals, such as the bala shark. 

The Furry Companion advocates for animal welfare by bringing endangered animals’ issues to light in hopes of inspiring our audiences to take action. If you are seeking guidance for your bala shark, don’t hesitate to reach out to us! We’d love to help you out. Our list of pet professionals can surely guide you to the best care available! 


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