The big issue of controversy at the 2014 International Whaling Commission (IWC) Scientific Committee meeting was what to do about the issue of Japanese scientific whaling in Antarctica. Earlier this year the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that so called "scientific whaling" (or the JARPAII research program to use IWC speak) was infact not science, but actually whaling in another guise and was therefore illegal.
Japanese scientists, as normal, had brought a plethora of papers based on this controversial "research" to the IWC - presumably with the aim of trying to get text written in the final meeting report about how useful and scientifically valuable their scientific whaling data and program is, and therefore establishing that it was actually science, and the ICJ was wrong.
However, with the tricky issue of the ICJ having recently declared this scientific whaling in Antarctica to be effectively illegal, if the scientific committee accepted the scientific whaling data, despite the legal ruling, it might set a difficult legal precedent, with the IWC scientific committee basically having blown off the decisions of the world's most important legal court.
The Chair of the IWC had unilaterally issued a letter to the Scientific Committee basically ordering them to consider the Japanese scientific whaling material and ignore the ICJ ruling. Know, to give a little context the Chair of the IWC is currently the Commissioner for St Vincent & the Grenadines, a Caribbean island state that has a hunt of pilot whales and other small cetaceans, ad which also hunts 2 humpback whales a year. St Vincent & the Grenadines is also a country that controversially votes with Japan at the IWC in exchange for fisheries aid and other support (). For those who have watched the movie "The Cove", she's the Caribbean Commissioner who could not answer the question about what whales could actually be found in the coastal waters of her country. The Chair of the IWC making such a statement without consultation with any of the other member nations (although I would bet money on there being consultation with Japan) was arguably a violation of IWC protocol.
So the Scientific Committee meeting started with a big debate as to whether Japanese documents based on technically illegal activity, would be appropriate. There was much back and forth - the whaling nations (Japan, Norway and Iceland) unsurprisingly said the papers were valid - Australia, New Zealand, UK and various European countries argued that the Scientific Committee did not for legal reasons, and that at the very least they should wait until the full body of the Commissioner of the IWC met in September.
The Chair of the Scientific Committee, seeing the lack of agreement, in fact more argument against, started to suggest that the scientists did not review the papers.
Then the head of the US delegation (and past Chair of the Scientific Committee) spoke up, and naively said that because the papers dealt just with science, the Scientific Committee should review the papers, and so swung the opinion. This Statement completely ignored the ICJ ruling, and basically set a legal precedent that despite the ICJ ruling the IWC Scientific Committee considered the JARPAII program produced valid science. This annoyed several members of the US delegation, on of whom produced a paper outlining how the JARPAII program was unnecessary (as most of the data could be collected by non-lethal means) or the science was so poor it was massively, and fundamentally flawed.
So why did the head of the US delegation do this, apparently somewhat unilaterally, and undermining the statements and comments of the anti-whaling/pro-conservation nations?
This became apparent later - the US delegation head at attended a review workshop on the JARPAII program, and had prepared a long ( I watched it - it was a good 45 minutes or so) powerpoint summary of the workshop, and - so my spies tell me, and they are reliable sources- she really wanted to give the presentation having spent so much time putting it together.
So for the sake of a powerpoint presentation, the head of the US scientific delegation ignored the ruling of the highest international court in the world, and effectively the United Nations; set a legal precedent, undermined the legal, political and scientific stances of many anti-whaling nations; made the months of legal wrangling at the ICJ and the $20million moot; and arguably opened up an avenue for Japan to start their scientific whaling again.
To compound the situation, the Australian Government had changed (to an even more conservative one). As the spearhead of the ICJ court case, the head of the Australian Government delegation really needed to be at the meeting to ensure that the legal ruling was followed. However the Australian government whale budget was massively slashed, and the head of delegation had to run off back to Australia to fold up departments, cancel programs and to fire staff, further undermining the ability to fight against Japan's arguments. So basically Australia had paid $20million in tax payers money to legally fight against Japanese whaling, and that same Government not only hobbled their representatives but tied their hands behind their back and blind folded them, just as fight came to a critical point.