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Cyrtocara moorii The Malawi Blue Dolphin

Above Cyrtocara moorii. Male top center. Brooding female below. Photo by Rick Borstein


Cyrtocara moorii, or as it is more generally known, Haplochromis moorii, is a popular aquarium fish. Males develop a nice nuchal hump that is the source of the common name of the this fish The Blue Dolphin.

Cyrtocara moorii can grow to impressive size in aquaria with males reaching over 11 inches and females smaller at 8 inches or so. Large tanks of 75 gallons or more would be a good idea if you plan to house several adults.

The Blue Dolphin is easy to keep and adaptable, but it can be one of the more difficult Malawian cichlids to breed.

I am not aware of location variants in the hobby, but I have noticed quite a difference in various specimens I have seen. The most common type is blue fish (see Male above middle). A silvery blue fish is also available (see above right). Finally, I have seen specimens that exhibit a purplish-blue color which is very attractive.


Cyrtocara moorii is found in relatively shallow waters (3 to 15 meters deep) in Lake Malawi. Unlike mbuna, this fish is found over sandy areas of the lake. Habitat water conditions are pH range 7.2 to 8.8, dGH range 10.0 to 18.0.


Cyrtocara moorii is easy to keep. They are not demanding as far as water conditions are concerned. I kept my fish at 78F, pH 7.2 with no problems. I performed weekly 40% water changes. These fish are slow growers.


These fish are not fussy eaters. I fed cichlid flakes, Tetra Cichlid Sticks (aka Doromin), Aquadine duraflakes, spirulina flakes, etc.


These fish are definitely a project for two reasons. Firstly, they are so timid they really do best in a species tank. Secondly, they need to be five to six inches and close to eighteen months old before they breed.

I purchased several fry at one of GCCA's Auctions and grew them up, moving them into successively larger tanks until they were just over five inches long.

In anticipation of breeding this fish, I moved the blue dolphins into a 125 gallon tank with a breeding group of Protomelas spilonotus. While there was not any inter-species aggression, the blue dolphins clearly weren't comfortable with these tankmates. Once I sold the Protomelas, the blue dolpins were much happier, but still wouldn't spawn. I had left a single, male Copadochromis borleyi in the tank. Once I removed the borleyi, the Blue Dolphins began spawning every six weeks or so, generally after a water change. The spawning I witnessed occurred over a flat slate in typical fashion.

Brooding females exhibit a different color pattern (see above) which included mottled black areas. My guess is that this is a signal to males that courting this female won't be a very useful activity. Indeed, my male left the brooding female to herself.

In my experience, females are very shy holders. I couldn't get a female to hold on her own past eight days. Mind you, this was with four adults with a 125 gallon tank to themselves. I was starting to get upset, as I really wanted to turn these fish in for GCCA's Breeders Award Program! One time, when I went to net out the female, she spat the eggs into the gravel before I was able to catch her.

After losing four spawns, I took matters into my own hands. I netted our a dazed female after turning the tank lights on first thing in the morning. I stripped this female the day after she spawned of forty eggs and moved the eggs to an artifical brooder. I added Acriflavin Plus to the hatching tank and lost about fifteen of the eggs. The fry were free-swimming in about 14 days. I fed the fry Cyclops-eeze and Golden Pearls and eventually transitioned them to crushed flake food. They are a month old now and about half an inch long. BAP at last!

Retail Price

At retail, two-inch fish are generally $7 to $12 US. Adults are much harder to find and more expensive. Expect to pay at least $20 for a fully-colored male at 5 inches.


Cyrtocara moorii is easy to find. It's a hardy fish, so you will find them at your local fish store. One reason I think this fish remains popular is the common name-- Blue Dolphin. It seems like every cichlid book has an impressive picture of this fish, so a lot of beginners know what this fish is and what it looks like.

If possible, buy your fish from a local breeder. Since there are color variants, it's a good idea to see the adult fish prior to purchasing fry.

Report June 2002 by Rick Borstein