Around 150 dolphins beach in Japan
HOKOTA - Agence France-Presse
Dolphins lie on the beach in Hokota, north of Tokyo, Friday, April 10, 2015. AP PhotoAround 150 melon-headed whales, a member of the dolphin family usually found in the deep ocean, beached in Japan on Friday, sparking frantic efforts by locals and coastguards to save them.
Rescuers were battling to stop the creatures' skin from drying out as they lay on a beach about 100 kilometres (60 miles) northeast of Tokyo, while some were being carried in slings back towards the ocean.
Television footage showed several animals from the large pod had been badly cut, and many had deep gashes on their skin.
An AFP journalist at the scene said that, despite efforts to get the dolphins into the water, some were being pushed back onto the beach by the tide soon after being released.
A number of the creatures had died, he said, and were being buried.
"We see one or two whales washing ashore a year, but this may be the first time we have found over 100 of them on a beach," a coastguard official told AFP.
A Hokota city official said they had counted 149 dolphins, revising an earlier figure of 130. Some had died, he said, but by late afternoon, three had been successfully returned to the sea.
The pod was stretched out along a roughly 10 kilometre-long stretch of beach in Hokota, Ibaraki, where they were found by locals early Friday morning.
Several animals were writhing in a futile effort to move themselves on the sand, although as the day wore on they were clearly becoming weaker.
"They are alive. I feel sorry for them," a man told public broadcaster NHK, as others ferried buckets of seawater to the stranded animals and poured it over them.
While the reason for the beaching was unclear, Tadasu Yamadao, a researcher at the National Museum of Nature and Science, said the dolphines might have got lost.
"Sonar waves the dolphins emit might have been absorbed in the shoals, which could cause them to lose their sense of direction," he told the Yomimuri Shimbun.
Yamada and other researchers left Tokyo for the beach to probe the cause of the incident, a spokeswoman for the museum told AFP.
Melon-headed whales, also known as electra dolphins, are relatively common in Japanese waters and can grow to be two-to-three meters (six-to-nine feet) long.
In 2011, about 50 melon-headed whales beached themselves in a similar area.
The dolphin rescue under way Friday stood in marked contrast to the global view of Japan and its relationship with cetaceans.
Despite international opprobrium, Japan hunts minke and pilot whales off its own coast, and has for many years also pursued the mammals in the Antarctic Ocean using a scientific exemption to the international moratorium on whaling.
It has never made any secret of the fact that meat from the animals is consumed.
A UN court ruled last year that its hunt was a commercial activity masquerading as research and ordered it be halted.
Tokyo, which insists whaling is a tradition and labels environmental campaigners as "cultural imperialists", has vowed to restart a redesigned southern ocean whaling programme, possibly later this year.
Coincidentally, four whaling vessels set out Friday to hunt up to 51 minke whales in the northwestern Pacific, in a separate hunt that was not covered by the UN court ruling.
Japan also defies international opinion with the annual slaughter of hundreds of dolphins in a bay near the southern whaling town of Taiji.
The killing was brought to worldwide attention with the Oscar-winning documentary "The Cove".