BRIGANTINE - At least 50 beached seals have been reported along the Jersey Shore in the last two weeks, according to the Marine Mammal Stranding Center.

The center says seal sightings are a common occurrence in March, but the numbers are much higher than normal. Bob Schoelkope, the director for the center, says the bitter-cold temperatures are to blame.

“The animals that were in the back bays had to stay back there because they were iced in,” Schoelkope says. “They couldn’t swim the distance under the ice to get to open water.

Once the iced thawed, they were able to break free. Now, they are eating fish in the open ocean and sunning themselves on the beach to stay warm. Most of the seals are being monitored by the center, but are left alone. Four are recovering from injuries and illnesses at the center.

“Most of these animals were healthy, laying on the beach, minding their own business,” says Schoelkope. “We wish people on the beach did the same.”

It is against the law for people to come in contact with the seals. Beachgoers are reminded to stay at least 50 feet away. If a beached seal is spotted, the Marine Mammal Stranding Center asks people to take a picture from a safe distance and forward it to them with the location.