Paul the Octopus

Paul the Octopus
Paul the Octopus

Paul in his tank, next to a football boot with the German flag colours
Other appellation(s) "Paul" Oktopus
Paul der Krake
Pulpo Paul
Species Octopus vulgaris
Sex Male
Born 26 January 2008
Originally reported from Weymouth, England. (See Life section)
Died 26 October 2010 (aged 2)
Oberhausen, Germany
Occupation Exhibit
Psychic Football Pundit 2008–2010
Known for Preselecting boxes corresponding with the winners of Germany's football matches at the 2010 FIFA World Cup
Owner Sea Life Centres (aquarium keeper: Oliver Walenciak)
Named after A poem by Boy Lornsen, Der Tintenfisch Paul Oktopus

Paul the Octopus (26 January 2008 – 26 October 2010)[1][2] was a common octopus from Weymouth, England. Paul lived in a tank at a commercial attraction, the Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen, Germany[3] and became internationally famous after his feeding behaviour was used to correctly predict the winner of each of the Germany national football team's seven matches in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, as well as the outcome of the final.

The prediction process was designed so that Paul was presented with two boxes containing food in the form of a mussel, each box marked on the outside with the flag of a national football team in a forthcoming match. His choice of which mussel to eat first was interpreted as indicating his prediction of a win for the country whose flag was on that box. Selections by the octopus were correct in four of Germany's six Euro 2008 matches, and were correct in all seven of their matches in the 2010 World Cup. The octopus also correctly selected a win for Spain against the Netherlands in the World Cup Final on 11 July by eating the mussel in the box with the Spanish flag on it.[4] These predictions were 100% (8/8) correct for the World Cup and 86% (12/14) correct overall.

However, the keeper at the aquarium stated that Paul was not the same octopus that predicted the results for the 2008 UEFA European Football Championships.[5] Octopus Paul was retired after the 2010 World Cup, and died the following October.



Paul was originally said to have been hatched from an egg in January 2008 at the Sea life Centre in Weymouth, Dorset, England, then moved to a tank at one of the chain's centres in Oberhausen, Germany.[6] American cable television network ESPN reported claims made in a Bild article (later republished by the Italian press)[7] that Paul the Octopus had in fact been caught in April 2010, by Verena Bartsch, off the island of Elba in the Mediterranean Sea.[8][9] Another claim points to Sète in Southern France, according to a French national TV channel.[10]

His name derives from the title of a poem by the German children's writer Boy Lornsen: Der Tintenfisch Paul Oktopus.[11][12]

According to DPA, local businessmen in O Carballiño, a town in Galicia, Spain, collectively raised around €30,000 as a "transfer fee" to have Paul as the main attraction of the local Festa do Polbo festival.[13] Manuel Pazo, a fisherman and head of the local business club made assurances that Paul would be presented alive in a tank and not as a menu item. Sea Life Centres rejected the offer nonetheless.[14]

After accusations of betrayal by the German newspaper Westfälische Rundschau, the Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero jokingly said he would send a team of bodyguards to protect Paul, while the environment minister Elena Espinosa said she would give Paul protection under conservation laws so that Germans would not eat him.[15]


The two plastic boxes which were presented to Paul. The food items are visible in the left-hand corners.

It was at first claimed that Paul's career as an oracle began during the UEFA Euro 2008 tournament.[6][12][16] In the lead-up to Germany's international football matches, Paul was presented with two clear plastic boxes, each containing food: the soft parts of a mussel. 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.[17]

Paul's apparent success was considered by some academic commentators to be simply comparable to a run of luck when tossing a coin; this analogy was made by Professor Chris Budd of the University of Bath, Professor David Spiegelhalter of Cambridge University, and Etienne Roquain of Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris.[18][19]

Assuming that the choices were not biased by a hidden variable, and assuming that the octopus was equally likely to choose the winner or the loser of a match, and neglecting the possibility of a draw, the octopus had a 1/2 chance of predicting any single result and a 1/256 chance of predicting eight in a row. Spiegelhalter and Roquain point 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 (including humans), and of course only the successful animal gains public attention after the fact.[18][19]


UEFA Euro 2008

Teams Stage Date Prediction Result Outcome
 Germany vs Poland  Group stage 8 June Germany 2–0 Correct
 Croatia vs Germany  Group stage 12 June Germany 2–1 Incorrect
 Austria vs Germany  Group stage 16 June Germany 0–1 Correct
 Portugal vs Germany  Quarter-finals 19 June Germany 2–3 Correct
 Germany vs Turkey  Semi-finals 25 June Germany 3–2 Correct
 Germany vs Spain  Final 29 June Germany[6] 0–1 Incorrect

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, and by Spain in the championship's final.[20] Some later sources wrongly reported his success rate at 80%.[21]

2010 FIFA World Cup

Teams Stage Date Prediction Result Outcome
 Germany vs Australia  Group stage 13 June Germany[22] 4–0 Correct
 Germany vs Serbia  Group stage 18 June Serbia[22] 0–1 Correct
 Ghana vs Germany  Group stage 23 June Germany[22] 0–1 Correct
 Germany vs England  Round of 16 27 June Germany[23] 4-1 Correct
 Argentina vs Germany  Quarter-finals 3 July Germany[24] 0–4 Correct
 Germany vs Spain  Semi-finals 7 July Spain[25] 0–1 Correct
 Uruguay vs Germany  3rd place play-off 10 July Germany[26] 2–3 Correct
 Netherlands vs Spain  Final 11 July Spain[27] 0–1 Correct
Paul picks Germany over Uruguay on 9 July 2010

Paul predicted the winners of each of the seven 2010 World Cup matches that the German team played, against Australia, Serbia, Ghana, England, Argentina, Spain, and Uruguay.[18] His prediction that Argentina would lose prompted Argentine chef Nicolas Bedorrou to post an octopus recipe on Facebook.[6] Paul's keeper, Oliver Walenciak,[24] responded by saying "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."[24]

Paul picks Spain over the Netherlands on 9 July 2010

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.[28] The prediction led to death threats as German fans called for Paul to be cooked and eaten.[29][30] In response, Spanish prime minister José Zapatero jokingly offered to send Paul official state protection, and the Industry Minister Miguel Sebastián called for Paul to be given safe haven in Spain.[31][32] Paul maintained a 100% accurate record during the tournament by correctly predicting Spain's victory over the Netherlands in the final (beating several rival animal psychics, most notably Mani the Parakeet who incorrectly predicted that the Netherlands would beat Spain) as well as Germany's win over Uruguay in the third-place playoff, and subsequently went into retirement.[33]


Assuming Paul's predictions were no better than fair independent coin flips, the probability of at least 12 successful predictions from 14 attempts is p = 0.0065, or 0.65%.[34] (154 to 1). And the probability of his 8 successful World Cup predictions out of 8 attempts is 1/28 = 0.0039, or 0.39%[35] (256 to 1). The first three matches were in the group stage where the outcome could have been a win, loss, or draw, resulting in a less than 50% probability of getting the result correct. Assuming a probability of 33.3% in 6 out of 14 matches instead, the probability for 12 or more successes can be simulated numerically to be 0.11% (corresponding to 3.2 standard deviations in gaussian statistics).[36]

Paul started to receive international recognition after he correctly predicted Germany's win over England; after that he made four correct predictions. The chance of those final four predictions being correct is (1/2)4 = 6.25% (odds 16 to 1).

José Mérida, a data analyst from Guatemala City, used a coin tossing model to calculate that only 178 individuals are needed to have a greater than 50% chance of someone correctly predicting all the winners from a series of 8 matches; and points out that there were certainly thousands and thousands of individuals all over the world attempting to make these predictions during the 2010 World Cup.[37]

Possible biases

Flag of Germany: A horizontal tricolor of black, red and gold
Germany (11)
Flag of Spain: A horizontal tricolor 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 tricolor of red, blue. and white, with the lesser coat of arms
Serbia (1)
Flags picked by Paul

Although the Sea Life Center aquarium is commercial rather than a scientific establishment, Paul the octopus appeared to be part of what might be described as a blind experiment, albeit under intense media scrutiny, to predict the outcome of football matches. In order to accept the idea that the octopus somehow had access to information about future events, a seemingly paranormal ability known as precognition, it is necessary to first be sure that bias of various kinds were not influencing Paul's choices. Etienne Roquain admitted that chance was not necessarily the only explanation for Paul's choices, and said that the octopus could have been choosing boxes systematically—if not on the basis of football expertise, then perhaps on the animal's attraction to the design of the countries' flags, or the superior quality of individual food items that were offered.[19]

The species Octopus vulgaris is almost certainly color blind; neither behavioral studies nor electroretinogram experiments show any discrimination of a color's hue.[38] In this case, individuals would still be able to distinguish brightness as well as an object's size, shape, and orientation. Shelagh Malham, research lecturer at the School of Ocean Sciences, Bangor University, suggested that they are drawn to horizontal shapes.[39] Daniel Fey, a Sea Life Aquarium spokesman 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.[40]

Matthew Fuller, the senior aquarist at the Weymouth park, judged the flag-shape 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."[41] Vyacheslav Bisikov, a Russian biologist, agrees that it is possible for an octopus to become attracted to a striped flag.[42] Pascal Coutant, director of the La Rochelle Aquarium states: "It's complete chance that guides his choices."[43]

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, suggests that minor chemical differences on the surface of each box might account for Paul's decisions.[44] Bisikov states that Paul could be easily trained to choose the right box by smell[42]  – though of course the "right" box is not apparent until after the match is completed, whereas all Paul's predictions are made before the match begins. According to Paul's keepers, there are holes in the jars to help him choose – although his choices were all made before each match began and while the result was not known.[45]

Another potential bias may have been spatial preference or related factors such as light intensity. On six out of eight predictions for the World Cup the octopus chose the right-hand box (from the camera point of view), skipping the boxes with the Australian and, later, English flags. Both of these flags are very distinctive from the horizontal stripes pattern he always chose. Also in both predictions of German loss, Paul chose the right-hand boxes with the flags of Serbia and Spain, which are very similar in shape to the German flag usually preferred. Thus a combination of spatial and shape preference may have formed the prediction bias. Paul's keepers put the first team as officially listed by FIFA in the left-hand box, the second team listed by FIFA in the right-hand box, for all predictions.[46]

Theories to explain his behavior could have been systematically tested if Paul had repeated his selection many times, but he only selected one box per game.[44] A real scientific experiment would have been more vigilant about attempting to eliminate possible sources of bias, including the flag visuals and any differences in the preparation (such as for example the size or freshness) of the individual food items.[19]

Public reaction

Paul and his predictions have been spoofed by various segments of the media from across the world. On the web, applications and websites exist that support and spoof Paul. A website called Paul Predicts[47] went online soon after the World Cup. Another popular application called Pulpo Paul[48] went online soon after the World Cup. A song for Paul was made on YouTube and was played on CNN when they did a report on Paul.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad criticized the reporting of Paul several times during a speech in Tehran, which took place in the weekend of 24–25 July 2010. Ahmadinejad accused the West of using the octopus to spread "western propaganda and superstition,"[49] and lamented western decadence.

In December, Paul was placed 100th in BBC Three's list of The Most Annoying People of 2010 for correctly predicting the 2010 FIFA World Cup results.

Retirement and ambassadorship

On 12 July 2010, Paul was retired from making predictions.[50] Paul's owners stated "He won't give any more oracle predictions – either in football, or in politics, lifestyle or economy. Paul will get back to his former job, namely making children laugh."[50] As a reward for his accurate predictions, aquarium staff presented him with his very own replica World Cup trophy garnished with his favourite food – mussels.[50]

On 20 August 2010, Paul was given the position as an official "ambassador" to England's 2018 World Cup bid.[51]


It was expected that Paul the Octopus would die before the UEFA Euro 2012, as common octopuses live on average no more than two years. On 26 October 2010, Paul died in his aquarium in Germany. His remains were cremated and he was given a small burial plot within the grounds of the Oberhausen Sea Life Centre. A modest permanent shrine was erected.[52][53][54] Paul's agent, Chris Davies, said "It's a sad day, Paul was rather special, but we managed to film [him] before he left this mortal Earth."[55]

Similar oracles

Some other oracles did not fare so well in the World Cup. The animals at the Chemnitz Zoo in Germany 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, Jimmy the Peruvian guinea-pig and Anton the tamarin eating a raisin representing Ghana. Mani the Parakeet of Singapore,[56][57] Octopus Pauline of Holland,[58] Octopus Xiaoge of Qingdao China,[59] Chimpanzee Pino and Red River Hog Apelsin in Tallinn zoo Estonia[60] picked the Netherlands to win the final.[61] Crocodile Harry of Australia picked Spain to win.[62]


Paul II

Paul II is also a common octopus at the Sea life Centre in Oberhausen, who is intended to succeed Paul the Octopus.[1][63][64][65][66] Paul II was caught in the waters near Montpellier, France. Paul II was kept in quarantine for two months before being moved into the tank which previously housed Paul.[67][68] According to Stefan Porwoll, the aquarium manager, Paul II was meant to interact with Paul the Octopus, but Paul died while Paul II was still in quarantine.[69] It had been hoped that Paul would "teach" Paul II how to predict the winners of football matches.[70]

Given the relatively short lifespan of the common octopus, it is unlikely that Paul II will be alive to be used for predicting the outcomes of 2014 FIFA World Cup games.[71] It is expected that Paul II will be used in attempts to predict the outcomes of Euro 2012 matches.[70]

Ollie the Octopus

Ollie the Octopus is a common octopus from Weymouth, England, who lives in a tank at the Sea Life Centre in Blackpool.[72] He is the cousin of Paul the Octopus.[72][73] The octopus, named after newly promoted Blackpool F.C. boss Ian 'Ollie' Holloway,[74] will use the same method to guess scores, choosing between two boxes in his tank with team names on the side, both of which will contain fish or mussels.[73]

See also


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  5. ^ Por Rafael Maranhão Direto de Oberhausen, Alemanha (29 June 2010). "Oceanário diz que polvo-profeta não tem preço". Globo Esporte. Retrieved 14 July 2010. 
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  46. ^ 2010 World Cup Match Listings FIFA
  47. ^ Paul Predicts BC Webwise
  48. ^ Preguntele al Pulpo Paul
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  52. ^ [1], 26 October 2010
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  58. ^ Dutch octopus challenges German colleague's prediction Radio Netherlands Worldwide, 9 July 2010
  59. ^ "蛸哥"叫板章鱼保罗 青岛八带"预测"荷兰捧杯, 11 July 2010
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  62. ^ Psychic croc Dirty Harry picks Gillard for poll win BBC News, 20 August 2010
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