Nearly 150 dolphins were stranded after they washed ashore on a beach in Japan on Friday, the Agence France-Presse reported.

Locals in the city of Hokota, which lies about 60 miles north of Tokyo, discovered the beached melon-headed whales on Friday morning. What followed was a frantic effort to keep the dolphins' skin from drying out as coastguard officials tried returning them to the ocean.

Some dolphins were seen wriggling back and forth in an effort to make it back into the water, AFP reported. Officials said it's the biggest number of marine mammals they have seen washed ashore at once.

"We see one or two whales washing ashore a year, but this may be the first time to find over 100 of them on a beach," an unnamed coastguard official told AFP.

Footage from the scene showed rescuers going back and forth carrying buckets of seawater and throwing it over the animals. Others used slings to carry them back to the ocean.

Rescue attempts were delayed by the tide that kept pushing some of the dolphins back onto the beach once they were returned to the water, according to the news agency.

"They are alive," one man told the TV station NHK. "I feel sorry for them."

Authorities said many of the creatures did not make it and will be buried.

Melon-headed whales, which can grow up to nine feet long, are commonly found swimming in the deep ocean off Japan.

Japan is also where whale and dolphin hunting takes place despite backlash from the United Nations and environmentalists, AFP reported.

The island nation has responded by calling critics "cultural imperialists."