As the weather continues to warm up, do not be surprised if you see seals sunbathing along the beaches of the Jersey Shore. So far, 23 of the mammals have been seen and marine officials are warning residents to keep their distance.

A baby seal. ((Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Every year, seals come ashore in New Jersey, but the severe icing conditions this winter have resulted in an increase in sightings. There have been sightings in Avalon, Ventnor, Long Beach Island, Bayville and Avon By The Sea. Most have been healthy.

"The back bays were frozen solid and seals that were in those areas had no way of coming out to feed. Seals can hold their breath for 10 or 15 minutes, but to swim under that vast amount of ice would be next to impossible. So, they fasted for some time until the ice broke up," said Bob Schoelkopf, founding director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine.

The seals have finally been able to get out into the open water to start feeding, but, they also like to warm up after they eat, so they sit on the beaches to dry off, get some sun and digest their food.

If you happen to come across a beached seal, Schoelkopf says there are a few steps you should take:

  • Do not touch or approach the animal. (Stay at least 50 feet away);
  • Keep pets away from the animal;
  • Call the Marine Mammal Stranding Center at 609-266-0538;
  • Take a cell phone picture and send it to the Marine Mammal Stranding Center for documentation.

"Stay away from these animals," Schoelkopf said. " Do not approach them. These are wild animals, they do bite and their bite is highly infectious."