Columbian Shark 101: The Ultimate Care Guide

The Columbian Shark is a beautiful fish with an interesting history. Click here to learn more about this amazing fish, and how to care for them.

Columbian Shark – Quick Facts

In a rush? Check out the quick facts about Columbian Shark below.

Fish Info

Scientific NameAriopsis seemanni
Common NamesColombian shark, Tete sea catfish, Jordan’s Catfish, West American Cat Shark
AppearanceThe Columbian Shark is a large, gray-colored shark-like fish with long whiskers on its nose.
DifficultyThe difficulty of caring for Columbian sharks increases as the sharks grow older.
DistributionThe Columbian Shark is a wide distributed species that can be found in both southern and northern regions of the Pacific Ocean. They are native to the rivers that drain into the pacific.
LifespanThe lifespan of Columbian Shark is 10 to 15 years.
ShoalingYes, Columbian Shark is a shoaling fish.
TemperamentColumbian sharks are peaceful and stay in the middle to lower parts of the aquarium.
Keep in Groups of4 or more
Tank MatesSimilar-sized fish with similar needs. Columbian sharks tend to eat fish that are smaller than them.
DietThe columbian shark is an omnivore that feeds on food such as crustaceans, shrimp, and can be fed with flakes and pellets.
LengthThe average size of the Columbian Shark is 10-14 inches.
Sexual DimorphismFemales are thicker-bodied than males.
Breeding DifficultyBreeding Columbian sharks is difficult because of the tank size requirements.

Water/Tank Recommendations

Water TypeColumbian Shark is a brackish water fish.
Water Temperature22-27°C (72-81°F)
Water pHThe ideal water pH for Columbian Shark is 6.8-8.0.
Water HardnessThe ideal water hardness for columbian shark is around 8-30 dH.
Tank sizeThe minimum tank size for Columbian Sharks is 150 gallons, and the recommended tank size is 200 gallons.


The Columbian Shark is a large, interesting looking brackish water fish that has been gaining in popularity over the last few years. But since they’re such a unique species, there is still some misinformation and confusion about this fish.

That’s why we put together this guide. In it, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the care requirements of Columbian Sharks.

Once you know what to do, it’s actually pretty simple. These are hardy and peaceful fish that can thrive in a well-equipped tank!

About Columbian Shark

The Columbian Shark is an interesting fish that many aquarists don’t know much about. Despite the name, this species is actually a type of catfish rather than a shark. While they can be a challenge to keep, this species has a lot of potential for success in the right conditions.

Columbian Sharks are found throughout South America but primarily in rivers near shore where currents are present year-round. In captivity, these sharks prefer temperatures between 22°C and 27°C, with salinity levels ranging from 8% up to 30%.

Due to their unique habitat requirements when compared with other aquarium species, it takes some time getting used to before caring for one becomes second nature.


Columbian Shark has the appearance of a long, thin fish. They take on an elongated shape that’s perfect for swimming fast through water.

The dorsal fin is rather small and sits closer to the middle of their body than most other fish species do. It runs approximately one-third of the way back from the head before stopping abruptly at mid-body.

This unique look makes it easy to distinguish them from other types of aquarium catfish. Columbian Sharks have very large pectoral fins with thick rays that can be used as rudders when necessary. Their anal fin is also pretty large compared to what you would see on many other catfish.

Their head features whisker-like barbels on either side where they originate from tiny holes in front of their eyes (used for sensing movement around them).

Their Length

The average length of the Columbian Shark is 10-14 inches.

This species is big, and it requires a very large tank to accommodate their size. This is one of the reasons why this fish is not recommended for beginners.


The average lifespan of a Columbian Shark is 10 to 15 years. To have a long-lived fish, it’s important that you provide the best care possible.

Fish kept in substandard conditions will likely experience disease and premature death due to stress.

To prevent your Columbian Shark from dying early, make sure that you provide them with the best tank setup possible.

Sexual Dimorphism

For the most part, Columbian Sharks look very similar no matter what sex they are. However, there are a few differences to take note of an eye out for when trying to determine their gender.

The first difference is size. Females tend to be thicker-bodied than males.

Another way you can tell a female from a male is by looking at the shark’s whiskers on its nose (the barbels). On males, these whiskers are longer and tend to point forward or slightly upward as opposed to being wide-spread.


Columbian Sharks are native to the Pacific Ocean and its tributaries. These fish prefer brackish waters, so they can be found in areas that have a mix of freshwater and seawater, such as the river mouths which empty into the ocean.

In captivity, you should provide Columbian Sharks with a mix of freshwater and brackish water as well. They can do fine in standard tank conditions when they are young, but once they reach a certain size they will need to be in more brackish water. Add some aquarium salt to their tanks to replicate the natural oceanic environment they would encounter outside.

The bottom of the tank should be soft sand or mud so that these fish can burrow if they want to hide from others.

Caring for Columbian Shark

Columbian Sharks are a unique fish that requires some special considerations when it comes to caring for them. These large brackish water fish have their own preferences when it comes to temperature and environment, so you need to know what they like in order to keep them healthy.

As with any other saltwater or freshwater aquarium fish, the most important part of Columbian Shark care is keeping their habitat clean. A dirty tank can cause serious health issues, which will shorten the lifespan of your new pet significantly.


Columbian Sharks are omnivores, which means they eat mostly everything. They’re especially fond of shrimp and crustaceans, but will consume anything smaller than them in size as well.

In captivity, you can feed your Columbian Shark flake or pellet food and algae wafers. The fish also enjoy chopped up meaty foods such as sinking beef heart or bloodworms.

Dry flakes are a good base for the fish’s diet, but you should supplement with live food periodically. They also need some plant-based foods to keep their digestive tract healthy.

How Often & How Much to Feed Them

Columbian Sharks are a bit different when it comes to feeding them. Because of their preference for live prey, you’ll need to do some planning ahead of time and make sure that your tank is well-stocked with the right kind of food.

To start off, feed these fish several small meals throughout the day to mimic its natural diet in the wild. You can either supply flakes or pellets as their main source of nutrition (depending on what they prefer).

However, every once in a while you should throw in some live foods too! They will spend hours searching for small crustaceans and shrimp, so don’t be afraid to let them have this treat every once in a while!

Possible Diseases

Columbian sharks are not immune to common fish diseases. The most prevalent is Ich which can quickly take over your tank without proper treatment. Some other diseases that you have to look out for include skin flukes, bacterial infections, and fungal issues.

All of these health problems can be avoided by providing pristine water conditions and quarantining new fish prior to placing them in the main aquarium.

Before you add your Columbian shark, monitor your tank for at least 30 days. This will allow you to ensure that no diseases are present before introducing your new fish.

Tank Setup

Setting up the tank for Columbian Sharks is quite easy, but it does have some unique considerations.

The very first step is to set up a brackish water environment that’s similar to their natural habitat in the wild. Typically, this means adding iodine and salinity into your aquarium. We recommend keeping these levels on the higher end of low to best mimic a brackish environment.

Make sure there’s plenty of hiding places available throughout your tank too! Columbian Shark loves having places where they can sit still hidden from view. This makes them feel safe and secure which leads to reduced stress levels (and better health overall).

When setting up a tank for Columbian shark fish make sure you provide an area where they can spend time below the substrate since this is also something they enjoy doing.

Aquarium Size

The minimum tank size for Columbian Sharks is 150 gallons, and the recommended tank size is 200 gallons. These fish have a large adult size that requires ample room to roam.

It’s best not to keep them in an aquarium smaller than 150 gallons; this will prevent any aggression from occurring within the group due to lack of space. If you want more space for them, then increase your tank size accordingly.

Water Conditions

Based on their natural habitat, Columbian Sharks require some salt in the water to stay healthy. These fish come from rivers that flow into the Pacific Ocean. The brackish waters are not pure freshwater and not quite salty enough for true marine life either.

When you’re setting up your tank, it needs to have some salinity added. This level is referred to as “brackish” water conditions because it’s between fresh and fully saltwater. You can measure this using a test kit or an online calculator.

The specific gravity should fall between 1.005 and 1.010 for optimal health.


The recommended pH range for columbian shark is 6.8-8.0. It’s imperative to watch the water parameters and perform regular checks with a test kit to ensure that these levels are stable (or not too far off).

If you notice any significant changes, it’s best to take corrective action immediately before your fish get sick or worse yet – die!


The ideal water temperature for Columbian Sharks is between 22 and 27 degrees Celsius.

Lower temperatures are fine, but you should avoid going below 20 degrees Celsius to ensure the fish is comfortable. Higher temperatures can lead to stress, disease and even death.

You should also be cautious of heaters that warm up the water too quickly. This can lead to significant temperature fluctuations that your Columbian Shark doesn’t need!


Columbian Sharks prefer hard water. These fish can adapt to varying levels of hardness, but it’s best to keep the level around 8-30 dH for best results.

As a result of their preference for hard water conditions, you must also maintain brackish aquariums with specific parameters depending on your main tank setup.

Using a sump or overflow tank is essential to manage the specific water parameters. An automated system must be used to keep things running smoothly. Otherwise, changes in salinity levels can cause serious health problems for your Columbian Shark.


The best filtration method for Columbian Shark is a pump system. Hanging filters are not the right choice because these fish like to stay in the middle of the water column where they have easy access to food and oxygen.

A powerful pump can keep the water moving while also keeping ammonia levels low enough that your fish don’t suffer from its effects. Make sure you buy one with multi-stage filtration capabilities, as well.

Aquarium Plants

For places to hide, we recommend mangrove roots or driftwood. Since your Columbian Shark will be in a brackish water tank, finding suitable plants can be difficult.

When choosing some plants to add to your tank, be sure to research the plants to see if they can thrive in a brackish environment.

Some brackish water plants we recommend are:

  • Seaside brookweed
  • Anacharis
  • Moneywort

Keep in mind that some of these plants require more care than the average freshwater plant!

Behavior and Compatibility

Columbian Sharks are peaceful fish that tend to stay near the bottom of an aquarium.

These species like to stay together as shoals and usually group up when they get a little bit larger. When they’re younger, Columbian Sharks tend to act more as individuals than part of a group. This means you might see some light-hearted roughhousing from time to time! On occasion, this playfulness can result in accidental injuries for your Columbian Shark or other tank mates.

When kept with other non-aggressive fish that are about the same size, it tends to keep things fun without causing harm.

How Many to Keep Together

The ideal number of Columbian Sharks is four or more. They do best when kept in groups because it helps them become more social and confident.

However, you must make sure to give your fish enough room within the aquarium to swim around and avoid each other.

If you plan to keep a group of Columbian Sharks together, we recommend keeping and additional 50 gallons of tank space per shark. This will ensure that there’s plenty of room for everyone.


Columbian Sharks are very peaceful and shy fish. They prefer to stay in the middle or lower parts of the tank, which means you’ll most likely not see them too often!

Because they are so sensitive to stress, it’s important that their environment is as uneventful as possible. This includes noise and light levels. These fish can get scared easily, so avoid any unnecessary changes whenever possible.

They are compatible with other gentle fish. Columbian Sharks can be a bit too big for smaller tank mates, so make sure to pair them with larger fish that won’t feel threatened by their size.

Tank Mates

Columbian Shark can be kept with other peaceful fish of similar size and temperament. The ideal tank mates are Columbian Sharks of the same species.

A good rule to follow is keeping no more than four Columbian Sharks in your aquarium. However, there’s nothing wrong with having a larger group as long as your tank is large enough.

Here are some compatible tank mates:

Note that the freshwater options in the list above are only suitable when the Columbian Shark is still juvenile and in a freshwater tank. Once they have moved on to a brackish water tank, you will need to go with brackish water tank mates, such as the Dragon Fish Goby.


While some aquarists are able to breed Columbian Sharks, it is not an easy process. Successful breeding typically occurs in a brackish environment and requires the use of saltwater tanks with specific water parameters.

Males will build nests out of sand or gravel before attracting females to lay eggs. The female can then be removed from the tank so that the male can protect his nest while caring for the eggs once they hatch.

In the wild, the male will carry the eggs upstream to freshwater rivers. This is very difficult to recreate in an aquarium, so these fish are often not bred by fishkeepers.

Are Columbian Shark Fish a Good Choice For Your Tank?

The Columbian Shark is a gorgeous and unique freshwater fish. With their long whiskers, large eyes, and thick body, they do stand out!

Because of this uniqueness comes many questions from aquarists who are thinking about adding one to their tank. Are they easy to care for? Do you need a brackish water aquarium? Will other fish attack them?

Let’s take some time to answer these questions.

Columbian Sharks are generally not easy to care for, but with the right environment, they can be. They do need a brackish tank when they grow older. As long as you provide them with the right conditions and tank mates, this fish should be happy.


Columbian sharks are large and beautiful fish that will add a unique look to your tank. They’re fairly peaceful but can be territorial with other Columbian sharks, so make sure you have enough room in your aquarium for them to spread out.


Columbian Shark fish are highly sensitive to sudden changes in water quality, so you’ll need to maintain a stable environment. These fish can be prone to disease when kept in dirty or poorly maintained tanks.

Their brackish water requirements make the difficult to care for and not suited for beginners.


Columbian Shark is a fantastic freshwater fish with a unique look and temperament.

They’re relatively easy to care for, but you still need to have some experience if you want them to thrive. With the right resources and guidance, Columbian Sharks are very manageable for nearly any aquarist!

If you have any other questions about this species or suggestions on how we can improve our care guides, let us know!

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