Sailfin Tang: Species Profile & Care Guide

| Updated: June 14, 2023
Sailfin Tang closeup side profile full body

If you are looking for a beautiful and peaceful fish to add to your saltwater aquarium, you might want to consider the sailfin tang. This fish is one of the most popular members of the tang family. They have a stunning appearance, a friendly personality, and a simple diet. However, they also have some specific requirements and challenges that you need to be aware of before you decide to get one. In this article, I will tell you everything you need to know about sailfin tang, including their top care facts, breeding, tank size, tank mates, and disease prevention.

What are Sailfin Tangs?

A sailfin tang (Zebrasoma veliferum) is a marine reef fish belonging to the Acanthuridae family, also known as surgeonfish or doctorfish. They are native to Oceania, the Indian Ocean, and the South Pacific, where they inhabit seaward reefs and lagoons with strong water currents. They can live in water depths of 3 to 200 feet or more.

The sailfin tang has a disc-shaped body with a large anal fin and an elevated dorsal fin. The fins are so big that they can be folded down when the fish swims or extended when the fish wants to display or intimidate. The body is brownish-olive in color with vertical yellow stripes and pale yellow bands on the fins. The tail is golden yellow and the head is white with yellow dots. The eye has a dark band with yellow dots across it and another one behind it.

The sailfin tang can grow up to 15 inches in length and live for 5 to 7 years in the wild. In captivity, they may live longer, up to 30 years or more, if they are well cared for. They are also known as Pacific sailfin tang, eastern sailfin tang, ringed tang, or surgeonfish.

Species Overview

Scientific Name
Zebrasoma veliferum
Common Names
Sailfin tang, Pacific sailfin tang, eastern sailfin tang, ringed tang, surgeonfish
Oceania, Indian Ocean, South Pacific
Adult Size
Up to 15 inches
Life Expectancy
5 to 7 years in the wild, longer in captivity
Peaceful with most fish, but territorial and aggressive with other tangs or similar-looking fish
Moderate to hard
Minimum Tank Size
125 gallons
Captive Breedable

Caring for a Sailfin Tang

Sailfin tangs are not particularly difficult to care for, but they have some special needs you need to meet. Here are some of the top care facts that you should know about sailfin tangs:

  • Tank size: Sailfin tangs are large and active fish that need a lot of space to swim and explore. They also tend to be territorial and aggressive towards other tangs or similar-looking fish. Therefore, you need a large tank of at least 125 gallons for one sailfin tang. If you want to keep more than one, you need an even bigger tank with plenty of hiding places and rockwork.
  • Water quality: Sailfin tangs are sensitive to water quality and prone to diseases if the water parameters are not optimal. You need to maintain the water temperature between 72 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit, the pH between 8.1 and 8.4, the salinity between 1.020 and 1.025 specific gravity, and the ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels as low as possible. You also need to perform regular water changes, use a protein skimmer, and install a powerful filtration system to keep the water clean and oxygenated.
  • Diet: Sailfin tangs are herbivorous fish that mainly feed on microalgae and filamentous algae in the wild. In captivity, you need to provide them with plenty of marine-based seaweed and algae that they can graze on throughout the day. For this purpose, you can use dried seaweed sheets, frozen algae preparations, or live macroalgae. You can also supplement their diet with some meaty foods such as mysis shrimp, brine shrimp, or krill once or twice a week. However, avoid overfeeding them or giving them too much protein-rich food, as this can cause digestive problems or fatty liver disease. You can also offer them flake food or pellets specially formulated for herbivorous fish.
  • Lighting: Sailfin tangs are diurnal fish that need a moderate-high level of lighting in their tank. This will help them display their colors better and promote the growth of algae they can eat. You can use LED lights or metal halide lights for this purpose. However, make sure that you also provide some shaded areas where they can rest or hide if they feel stressed or threatened.
  • Decoration: Sailfin tangs like to have a lot of rockwork and corals in their tank that can provide them with hiding places, grazing areas, and stimulation. You can use live rock or artificial rock for this purpose. However, avoid using sharp or rough objects that can injure their fins or skin. You can also add some live plants or macroalgae to the tank to create a more natural and diverse environment for them. However, avoid using plants or algae that can compete with the sailfin tangs for food or space.

How to Breed Sailfin Tangs?

Sailfin tangs are not easy to breed in captivity, as they have a complex and delicate life cycle. They are gonochoristic, meaning that they have separate sexes and do not change gender. They are also pelagic spawners, meaning that they release their eggs and sperm into the water column, where they are fertilized externally. The eggs are very small and buoyant, and they hatch into tiny larvae that drift with the ocean currents for several weeks before settling on the reef.

To breed sailfin tangs in captivity, you need a large tank of several hundred gallons or more, with a separate breeding area with strong water flow and lighting. You also need to mimic the natural conditions and cues that trigger their spawning behavior, such as the lunar cycle, the water temperature, and the food availability. You need to have a mature pair of sailfin tangs that are healthy and compatible and feed them well with high-quality foods. You also need to monitor their behavior and look for signs of courtship, such as color changes, fin displays, and chasing.

When the sailfin tangs are ready to spawn, they will swim up to the water’s surface and release their gametes synchronized. You need to quickly collect the fertilized eggs and transfer them to a separate tank with clean water, a sponge filter, and an air stone. You also need to add some live phytoplankton or rotifers to the tank to feed the larvae. The larvae will hatch in about 24 hours and will start swimming freely. You need to keep them in the tank until they develop into juveniles, which can take several weeks or months. You also need to change their diet gradually as they grow, from live foods to frozen foods to flake foods.

Breeding sailfin tangs is not a task for beginners; it requires a lot of time, money, and expertise. However, if you are successful, you will accomplish something few have ever done.

Common Problems with Sailfin Tangs

Sailfin tangs are generally hardy and resilient fish, but they can suffer from some common problems if they are not well cared for. Some of these problems are:


Sailfin tangs can be aggressive towards other tangs or similar-looking fish, especially if kept in a small tank or in inadequate hiding places. They can also be bullied by larger or more dominant fish in the tank. To prevent aggression, you need to provide enough space and rockwork for each fish and avoid keeping too many tangs or similar-looking fish together. You can also use a quarantine tank to introduce new fish gradually and observe their compatibility.


Sailfin tangs are prone to various diseases such as ich, marine velvet, fin rot, bacterial infections, or parasitic infections. These diseases can be caused by poor water quality, stress, injury, or overcrowding. You need to maintain good water quality and perform regular water changes to prevent disease. You also need to quarantine new fish before adding them to the main tank and treat any sick fish promptly with appropriate medications.


Many tangs have venom glands and hollow spines for venom delivery. There has not been enough research done to show if they actually inject venom or if it’s merely an evolutionary remnant from their past. If you are stung by a sailfin tang, you need to wash the wound with soap and water, apply an antiseptic cream, and seek medical attention if necessary. To avoid being stung by a sailfin tang handle them carefully with gloves or nets.

Are Sailfin Tangs Good Pets?

Sailfin tangs are good pets for experienced aquarists who have a large saltwater aquarium and can provide them with proper care and attention. They are not suitable for beginners or small tanks, as they have specific requirements and challenges that need to be met. However, if you can meet their needs, you will enjoy having these colorful tropical reef fish in your tank.

Sailfin tangs are friendly and curious fish that will interact with you and their tank mates. They are also intelligent and trainable fish that can learn to recognize you and respond to your commands. They have a lot of personality and charm that will make you fall in love with them.

Sailfin tangs are also beneficial for your tank ecosystem, as they will help control the growth of algae and keep your water clean and healthy. They are also very beautiful and graceful fish that will add a lot of color and movement to your tank.

Sailfin tangs are not perfect pets, though. They can be aggressive, disease-prone, and venomous, which can pose some risks and challenges for you and your tank. They also need a lot of space, water quality, and diet, which can be costly and time-consuming for you.

Compatible Tank Mates for Sailfin Tangs

Sailfin tangs are generally peaceful and sociable fish that can get along with most other reef inhabitants. However, they can also be territorial and aggressive towards other tangs or similar-looking fish, especially if they are kept in a small tank or with inadequate hiding places. Therefore, you need to choose their tank mates carefully and avoid any potential conflicts or competition.

Some of the best tank mates for sailfin tangs are:

  • Clownfish
  • Angelfish
  • Butterflyfish
  • Blennies

Some of the worst tank mates for sailfin tangs are:

  • Other tangs (can be done in larger tanks)
  • Similar-looking fish
  • Aggressive or predatory fish

Final Thoughts

Sailfin tangs are amazing fish that can make great pets for the right aquarists. They have a lot of qualities that make them attractive and appealing, such as their appearance, personality, intelligence, and behavior. However, they also have some drawbacks that make them challenging and demanding, such as their aggression, disease, venom, size, water quality, and diet. Therefore, you need to be careful and responsible when choosing and caring for sailfin tangs.

I hope this article has helped you learn more about sailfin tangs and how to care for them. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below. I would love to hear from you.

Thank you for reading and happy fishkeeping! 🐟

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