Paul the Octopus

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Paul the Octopus
Oktopus-Orakel Paul mit Schuh.JPG
Paul, next to a soccer boot with the German flag colours, in his tank
Other name(s) Paul Oktopus, Die Krake Paul
Species Octopus vulgaris
Sex Male
Hatched 26 January 2008
Weymouth, England
Died 26 October 2010 (aged 2)
Oberhausen, Germany
Occupation Exhibit
Known for Predicting results of football matches
Owner Sea Life Centres
Named after Der Tintenfisch Paul Oktopus – poem by Boy Lornsen

Paul the Octopus (26 January 2008[1] – 26 October 2010) was a common octopus who supposedly predicted the results of association football matches. He made many accurate predictions in the 2010 World Cup which brought him worldwide attention as an animal oracle.

During divinations, Paul's keepers would present him with two boxes containing food. Each box was identical except for the fact that they were decorated with the different team flags of the competitors of an upcoming football match. Whichever box Paul ate from first would be considered his prediction for which team would win the match.

His keepers at the Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen, Germany, mainly tasked him with predicting the outcomes of international matches in which the German national football team was playing. Paul correctly chose the winning team in several of Germany's six Euro 2008 matches, and all seven of their matches in the 2010 World Cup—including Germany's third place play-off win over Uruguay on 10 July. Following these predictions, his success rate rose to 85 percent, with an overall record of 11 out of 13 correct predictions.

Aside from his predictions involving Germany, Paul also foretold Spain's win against the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup Final by eating a mussel from the box with the Spanish flag on it.[2]

Experts have proposed several scientific theories to explain Paul's seemingly prescient behaviour, ranging from pure luck to the possibility he was attracted to the appearance or smell of one box over another.


Paul in his tank, 2010

Paul was hatched from an egg at the Sea Life Centre in Weymouth, England, then moved to a tank at one of the chain's centres at Oberhausen in Germany.[3] His name derives from the title of a poem by the German children's writer Boy Lornsen: Der Tintenfisch Paul Oktopus.[4]

According to Sea Life's entertainment director, Daniel Fey, Paul demonstrated intelligence early in life: "There was something about the way he looked at our visitors when they came close to the tank. It was so unusual, so we tried to find out what his special talents were."[5]

The animal rights organisation PETA commented that octopuses are some of the most intelligent of invertebrates, with complex thought processes, long- and short-term memories, and different personalities. They can use tools, learn through observation, and are particularly sensitive to pain, according to the group. They said it would be cruel to keep Paul in permanent confinement. Sea Life Centres responded that it would be dangerous to release him, because he was born in captivity, and was not accustomed to finding food for himself.[6]

Following Paul's rise to fame, businessmen in Carballiño, a community in Galicia, collected about €30,000 in a "transfer fee" to get Paul as main attraction of the local Fiesta del Pulpo festival.[7] Manuel Pazo, a fisher and head of the local business club assured that Paul would be presented alive in a tank and not on the menu. Sealife rejected the offer nevertheless.[8]


Paul's career as an oracle began during the UEFA Euro 2008 tournament.[3][9] In the lead-up to Germany's international football matches, Paul was presented with two clear plastic boxes, each containing food: a mussel or an oyster. Each container was marked with the flag of a team, one the flag of Germany, and the other the flag of Germany's opponent. The box which Paul opened first (and ate the contents of) was judged to be the predicted winner of the game.[10]

Professor Chris Budd, of the University of Bath, and Professor David Spiegelhalter, of Cambridge University, have both compared Paul's apparent success to a run of luck when tossing a coin.[11] Under the hypothesis that Paul was equally likely to choose the winner or the loser of a match, and neglecting the possibility of a draw, he had a 1/2 chance of predicting a single result and a 1/64 chance of predicting six in a row. This feat would be unlikely to happen by chance alone, but not hugely so. Spiegelhalter points out that there are "other animals that have attempted but failed to predict the outcome of football matches"; it is not remarkable that one animal is more successful than the others, and only the successful animals will gain public attention after the fact.[11] Other experts propose that chance alone is not the only possible explanation for Paul's choices. He could have been choosing boxes systematically—if not on the basis of football expertise, then perhaps on his evaluation of the countries' flags.

Flag of Germany: A horizontal tricolour of black, red and gold
Germany (11)
Flag of Spain: A horizontal tricolour of red, yellow and red, the yellow stripe being twice the size of each red stripe and containing the coat of arms
Spain (2)
Flag of Serbia: A horizontal tricolour of red, blue. and white, with the lesser coat of arms
Serbia (1)
Flags picked by Paul

Of a total of fourteen predictions, Paul chose Germany eleven times, the only other choices being Spain (twice) and Serbia. The species Octopus vulgaris is almost certainly colour blind; neither behavioural studies nor electroretinogram experiments show any discrimination of a colour's hue.[12][13] Nonetheless, individuals can distinguish brightness as well as an object's size, shape, and orientation. Shelagh Malham of Bangor University states that they are drawn to horizontal shapes, and indeed, there are horizontal stripes on the flags he has chosen. The flag of Germany, a bold tricolour consisting of three equal horizontal bands of black, red and gold, was Paul's usual favourite. But the flag of Spain, with its broad yellow stripe, and the flag of Serbia, with its contrast of blue and white, are more vivid still, possibly explaining why Paul picked those countries over Germany.[12] Fey suggested that Paul was confused by the similarities between the German and Spanish flags; this was on 6 July, when Fey expressed hope that Paul's latest pick would be wrong.[14]

Matthew Fuller, the senior aquarist at the Weymouth park where Paul was born, judged the flag-design theory to be plausible: "[Octopuses] are the most intelligent of all the invertebrates and studies have shown they are able to distinguish shapes and patterns so maybe he's able to recognise flags."[15] Vyacheslav Bisikov, a Russian biologist, agrees that it is possible for an octopus to become attracted to a striped flag.[16] Drosos Koutsoubos, a marine biologist at the University of the Aegean, was more cautious: "Well, I'm not a specialist in the behaviour of octopuses and I can't give you with certainty an answer to this particular question. At least to my knowledge, it's rather a matter of random selection rather than any other selection."[17]

Octopus vulgaris is also equipped with sensitive chemoreceptors on its tentacles, which are used to taste food and "smell" the water. Biologist Volker Miske, of the University of Greifswald, has suggested that minor chemical differences on the surface of each box might have accounted for Paul's decisions.[18] Bisikov stated that Paul could have been "easily trained" to choose the right box by smell.[clarification needed][16] According to Paul's keepers, there were holes in the jars[clarification needed] to help him choose.[19]

Theories of his behaviour could have been systematically tested if Paul were to have repeated his selection many times, but he only selected one box per game.[18]


A press conference with Paul, 6 July 2010.

In UEFA Euro 2008, Paul correctly predicted the outcome of 4 out of 6 of Germany's matches. He failed to predict their defeats by Croatia in the group stage,[20] and by Spain in the championship's final.[3][nb 1]

2010 FIFA World Cup[edit]

Paul's accurate choices for the 2010 World Cup, broadcast live by German news channel n-tv, endowed him with celebrity status.[3] Paul predicted the winners of each of the seven 2010 FIFA World Cup matches that the German team played, against Australia, Serbia, Ghana, England, Argentina, Spain,[22] and Uruguay. His prediction that Argentina would lose prompted Argentine chef Nicolas Bedorrou to post an octopus recipe on Facebook.[3]

There are always people who want to eat our octopus but he is not shy and we are here to protect him as well. He will survive.

— Oliver Walenciak (Paul's keeper)[23]

Paul correctly predicted the outcome of the semi-final, by choosing the food in the box marked with the Spanish flag. German supporters drew hope from his incorrect choice for the Germany versus Spain match in the UEFA Euro 2008 but were disappointed.[24] The prediction led to death threats as German fans called for Paul to be cooked and eaten.[25][26] In response, Spanish Prime Minister José Zapatero offered to send Paul official state protection, and the Industry Minister Miguel Sebastian called for Paul to be given safe haven in Spain.[27][28]

The President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, criticised Paul, accusing him of being a symbol of Western decadence and decay.[29]

Doubts were expressed, notably in the German press, as to whether "Paul" was actually the same octopus in 2010 as in 2008.[30]

Results involving Germany Germany[edit]

Opponent Tournament Stage Date Prediction Result Outcome
 Poland Euro 2008 group stage 8 June 2008 Germany 2–0 Correct
 Croatia Euro 2008 group stage 12 June 2008 Germany[3][20] 1–2 Incorrect
 Austria Euro 2008 group stage 16 June 2008 Germany 1–0 Correct
 Portugal Euro 2008 quarter-finals 19 June 2008 Germany 3–2 Correct
 Turkey Euro 2008 semi-finals 25 June 2008 Germany 3–2 Correct
 Spain Euro 2008 final 29 June 2008 Germany[3] 0–1 Incorrect
 Australia World Cup 2010 group stage 13 June 2010 Germany[31] 4–0 Correct
 Serbia World Cup 2010 group stage 18 June 2010 Serbia[31] 0–1 Correct
 Ghana World Cup 2010 group stage 23 June 2010 Germany[31] 1–0 Correct
 England World Cup 2010 round of 16 27 June 2010 Germany[32] 4–1 Correct
 Argentina World Cup 2010 quarter-finals 3 July 2010 Germany[23] 4–0 Correct
 Spain World Cup 2010 semi-finals 7 July 2010 Spain[33] 0–1 Correct
 Uruguay World Cup 2010 3rd place play-off 10 July 2010 Germany 3–2 Correct

Results not involving Germany[edit]

Team Tournament Stage Date Prediction Result Outcome
 Netherlands vs.  Spain World Cup 2010 final 11 July 2010 Spain[34] 0–1 Correct

Similar predictors[edit]

Some other German oracles did not fare so well in the World Cup. The animals at the Chemnitz Zoo were wrong on all of Germany's group-stage games, with Leon the porcupine picking Australia, Petty the pygmy hippopotamus spurning Serbia's apple-topped pile of hay, and Anton the tamarin eating a raisin representing Ghana.[35][36]

Mani the parakeet of Singapore became famous for correctly predicting the results of all four quarter-final matches. Mani contradicted Paul by picking the Netherlands to win the final, resulting in some media outlets describing the game as an octopus-versus-parakeet showdown.[37][38][39]

Death and legacy[edit]

Memorial to Paul at the Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen

Paul was last checked by staff on 25 October 2010, and was in good health, but the following morning he was found dead. He was aged two-and-a-half, a normal lifespan for the species. His agent, Chris Davies, said "It's a sad day. Paul was rather special but we managed to film Paul before he left this mortal earth". Sea Life Centre manager Stefan Porwoll remembered Paul as an octopus who had "enthused people across every continent".[40][41]

In 2010 uTouchLabs developed an iPhone app called "Ask the Octopus".[42]

On 17 June 2014, during the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Paul was featured in a Google "doodle". He was represented as in heaven, perched on a billowy bed of clouds and adorned with a halo; when animated, he appeared to vacillate in his predictions for the day's matches.[43] Paul was again featured on 13 July in the doodle for the 2014 final. In that doodle, clicking on the clouds in the upper left brings up an image of Paul, similar to that in the earlier doodle, "cheering" on the final from heaven.[44]


  1. ^ "Muere el pulpo Paul [Paul the Octopus dies]". El País. 26 October 2010. Retrieved 18 June 2014. 
  2. ^ Christenson, Marcus. "Psychic octopus Paul predicts Spain to beat Holland in World Cup final", The Guardian, 9 July 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "World Cup 2010: 10 things you didn't know about Paul the psychic octopus", The Daily Telegraph (London), 7 July 2010, archived from the original on 22 June 2014, retrieved 12 June 2014 
  4. ^ Published in Das alte Schwein lebt immer noch: Boy Lornsens Tierleben, Schneekluth (1985), ISBN 978-3795109417. Re-published in and eponymous of the anthology Der Tintenfisch Paul Oktopus. Gedichte für neugierige Kinder, 2009, Manfred Boje Verlag ISBN 9783414821485
  5. ^ "Paul the World Cup 'psychic' octopus: Rock The Week | Metro News". Metro. UK. 2014. Retrieved 12 June 2014. 
  6. ^ Ruf, Cory (8 July 2010), "PETA demands Paul, the World Cup-predicting octopus, be set free", National Post, retrieved 9 July 2010 
  7. ^ bieten 30.000 Euro Ablösesumme für "Pulpo Paul" FTD 10 July 2010
  8. ^ Kraken-Orakel vs. Propheten-Papagei FR online nach einer DPA Meldung, 8 July 2010
  9. ^ "Paul the octopus chooses Spain over Germany". IOL. 6 July 2010. Retrieved 8 July 2010. 
  10. ^ Erskine, Carole (25 June 2010), Psychic Octopus to Predict England Result, Sky News, retrieved 9 July 2010 
  11. ^ a b Shenker, Sarah (9 July 2010), What are the chances Paul the octopus is right?, BBC News, retrieved 9 July 2010 
  12. ^ a b Connolly, Paul (9 July 2010), "Paul picks Spain! The 'oracle octopus' makes his prediction for the World Cup final... will he be right for the eighth time?", Daily Mail (UK), retrieved 9 July 2010 
  13. ^ Lydia M. Mäthger, Alexandra Barbosa, Simon Miner, Roger T. Hanlon (2006), "Color blindness and contrast perception in cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) determined by a visual sensorimotor assay", Vision Research 46: 1746–1753, doi:10.1016/j.visres.2005.09.035, PMID 16376404 
  14. ^ Grieshaber, Kirsten (6 July 2010), "Tentacle trauma: Paul the octopus says Spain will sink Germany at World Cup", Associated Press Newswires, Factiva APRS000020100706e676001l9 
  15. ^ "Weymouth's psychic octopus Paul is no sucker", Dorset Echo, 9 July 2010, Factiva NQTCE00020100709e6790002t, retrieved 10 July 2010 
  16. ^ a b German octopus predicts Spanish victory in World Cup, RIA Novosti, 9 July 2010, Factiva RVESEN0020100709e679001e2, retrieved 10 July 2010 
  17. ^ Farivar, Cyrus (9 July 2010), Martin Kuebler, ed., Octopuses have a well-developed brain, are attracted to colors and are 'delicious', Deutsche Welle, retrieved 10 July 2010 
  18. ^ a b "Darum hat sich Krake Paul für Spanien entschieden", Die Welt (in German), 8 July 2010, retrieved 9 July 2010 
  19. ^ "ABs win? Paul may not have a leg to stand on", Bay of Plenty Times, 10 July 2010, Factiva APNBPT0020100710e67a0000j, Octopuses test things for taste with the suckers on their tentacles. Paul's aquarium minders have confided that his choice of mussels from jars decorated with national flags was helped by holes in the jars. 
  20. ^ a b "Wie endet die Partie Deutschland – Kroatien?: Tier-Orakel sind sich uneins", Der Westen, 11 June 2008, retrieved 9 July 2010 
  21. ^ Armstrong, Paul (9 July 2010), Would you trust World Cup's octopus oracle?, CNN, retrieved 9 July 2010 
  22. ^ Shenker, Sarah (9 July 2010), What are the chances Paul the octopus is right?, BBC, retrieved 9 July 2010 
  23. ^ a b Hyde, Thomas (7 July 2010), "Germany v Spain: Psychic octopus Paul unfazed by death threats, says keeper", The Daily Telegraph (UK), retrieved 9 July 2010 
  24. ^ Octopus Paul predicts Spain over Germany in WCup, 6 July 2010 
  25. ^ Breitenbach, Dagmar (8 July 2010), Fry Paul the oracle octopus, German fans say, Deutsche Welle, retrieved 9 July 2010 
  26. ^ AbramsDavid (8 July 2010), Germans Eat Paul The Octopus, 
  27. ^ "Spanish PM Jose Zapatero offers Paul the psychic octopus state protection", Herald Sun, 8 July 2010, retrieved 9 July 2010 
  28. ^ "Paul the psychic octopus predicts Spain will beat Holland". The Daily Telegraph, 9 July 2010
  29. ^ "Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attacks Octopus Paul". The Daily Telegraph. 27 July 2010. Retrieved 17 June 2014. 
  30. ^ "Don't Mess with the Octopus: Oracle Paul Celebrates Perfect World Cup Record", Der Spiegel, 12 July 2010
  31. ^ a b c Snyder, Whitney (24 June 2010), "World Cup Octopus: Paul's Predictions Stun Germany", The Huffington Post 
  32. ^ 'Psychic' octopus predicts Germany victory over England, BBC News, 25 June 2010 
  33. ^ "Paul The Octopus Predicts Spain Will Beat Germany", The Globe and Mail (Toronto), 7 July 2010, archived from the original on 9 July 2010 
  34. ^ Christenson, Marcus (9 July 2010), "Psychic octopus Paul predicts Spain to beat Holland in World Cup final", The Guardian (London) 
  35. ^ "World Cup Forecasts: Paul the Octopus Predicts a German Advance", Spiegel Online International, 23 June 2010, Factiva SPION00020100623e66n0002z, retrieved 10 July 2010 
  36. ^ Binational octopus Paul predicts German win over England in next WCup game, Associated Press, 25 June 2010, Factiva APRS000020100625e66p001d2, retrieved 10 July 2010 
  37. ^ "World Cup Final a Battle of Octopus vs. Parakeet". CBS News. 9 July 2010. 
  38. ^ "WORLD CUP 2010: Paul the Psychic Octopus has competition as Mani the parakeet pecks Holland as his winners". Daily Mail (London). 9 July 2010. 
  39. ^ "Octopus Paul vs Mani the parakeet: Who will triumph?". Yahoo! Singapore. 10 July 2010. 
  40. ^ "Paul the World Cup octopus dies in his tank in Germany". BBC. 26 October 2010. Retrieved 22 February 2013. 
  41. ^ Branigan, Tania; Connolly, Kate; Jones, Sam (26 October 2010). "Paul the octopus is dead – but conspiracy theories are thriving". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 22 February 2013. 
  42. ^ "Paul The Octopus Gets An iPhone App". The Huffington Post. 14 September 2010. 
  43. ^ Curtis, Sophie (17 June 2014). "Belgium vs Algeria Google doodle remembers Paul the 'psychic' Octopus". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 17 June 2014. 
  44. ^ "Is today's World Cup final Google doodle carrying a hidden message?". Outside of the Boot. 13 July 2014. Retrieved 13 July 2014. 
  1. ^ Some later sources reported his success rate at 80%.[21]

Further reading[edit]