08 July 2010

Paul the “psychic” octopus does it again!

Camilla Bath
A common octopus (octopus vulgaris). Photo courtesy Joachim S. Müller

The only eight-legged celebrity of this year’s FIFA World Cup™ here in South Africa has been proved right in his sixth prediction of the tournament. Paul the German octopus, whose keepers believe can foretell the future, on Tuesday picked Spain to win the second semi-final – controversially snubbing his home team in favour of la Furia Roja.

What Paul predicted came to pass last night, when Spain sent Germany packing with a 1-0 victory and booked their place in the final against the Netherlands on Sunday. One could perhaps forgive the Germans for accusing their “octopus oracle” of being unpatriotic, but let’s face it – he was spot on. His prediction was certainly no metaphorical ink cloud.

We here at the Two Oceans Aquarium have been watching this quirky story with delight (and maybe a little bemusement). Paul is a common octopus (octopus vulgaris) who lives alone in his tank at Sea Life in Oberhausen; we also have a common octopus on display – although we haven’t picked up any signs of him being a soothsayer (yet). Why not come and take a look at this fascinating creature and decide for yourself whether he too can predict the future?

Some experts contend that octopuses have an astonishing nine brains (one main brain and nerve cords in each leg), so it’s not so far-fetched an idea as you might think. They’re probably the most intelligent invertebrates in the world. These wily sea creatures love problem solving, puzzles and mazes. Their relatively short life spans limit the amount of learning they can do (octopuses rarely live for longer than five years), but scientists agree they have both long- and short-term memories.

Whether it was with nine brains or a sixth sense, Paul correctly called all six Germany matches he was asked to predict during the World Cup. How did he do it? Before each match, the cephalopod prophet’s keepers helped him make his choice by giving him two boxes, each containing a mussel (a tasty treat if you’re an octopus); one of the containers bore the German flag and the other the flag of the opposing team. The octopus was left to decide which treat to eat first – and his choice was interpreted as his prediction.

Here’s a video of a common octopus at L’Oceanogràfic in Valencia, Spain:

Video courtesy Katja Schulz

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