The big reveal is set for Thursday, but the drumroll will be a bit less dramatic now that four South Jersey Shore towns have declared themselves winners in the state's first Top 10 Beaches contest.

Officials of Wildwood, Wildwood Crest and North Wildwood and Long Beach Island's Beach Haven just couldn't keep the good news to themselves.

"Next year, we may have to take a second look at how we inform towns that they have won," said Marsha Samuel, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Marine Sciences Consortium, which organized the poll and notified mayors last week that their beaches were voted among the best.

The officials were not informed where their resorts ranked in the four award categories - ecotourism, family vacation, tourism, and events - nor were they told which town took the "Best Beach" grand title.

Since all four resorts put out news releases, the consortium - which had been so close-mouthed that it wouldn't even say how many people took its survey - has gone into overdrive trying to plug the leak.

"We really would have preferred if they would have just waited until the 22d so everyone would get the same information at once," Samuel said.

The Top 10 Beaches announcement is timed to get Memorial Day weekend and the start of the Shore season rolling. It will be made at the annual State of the Shore media event in Sandy Hook.

Samuel said that the consortium, a network of colleges and other organizations dedicated to educating the public about the state's marine environment, notified the officials so that they would attend.

She acknowledged that the group may have been unclear that the results were top secret. But, with most winners still unannounced, "we still have a few surprises up our sleeve," Samuel promised.

In his town's non-sanctioned announcement, Beach Haven Mayor Thomas Stewart said that about 15,000 people voted online and at regional events between February and April.

John Siciliano, executive director of the Wildwood Convention Center, said yesterday that he was delighted that the Wildwoods apparently nabbed three slots.

Though Samuel wouldn't confirm the individual wins, the towns were listed separately on the ballot, not as a collective, Siciliano said.

"We knew it all along," he joked from his beachfront office at the Convention Center.

"We know three things here about our beaches," Siciliano said. "They're the widest, cleanest and safest beaches in the state.

"And they're free, no beach tags required. So we're not really surprised that we made the list."

If the wins were supposed to be kept secret, no one told him, Siciliano said.

"Naturally, we want to spread the word as quickly as possible," he said, calling the honor "big news."

"We think of our beaches as all one big beach, not split up into three towns. But it's nice that the public recognized all three."