The total number, distribution and peak density of presumed retinal ganglion cells was assessed in 10 species of elasmobranch (nine species of shark and one species of batoid) using counts of Nissl-stained cells in retinal wholemounts. The species sampled include a number of active, predatory benthopelagic and pelagic sharks that are found in a variety of coastal and oceanic habitats and represent elasmobranch groups for which information of this nature is currently lacking. The topographic distribution of cells was heterogeneous in all species. Two benthic species, the shark Chiloscyllium punctatum and the batoid Taeniura lymma, have a dorsal or dorso-central horizontal streak of increased cell density, whereas the majority of the benthopelagic and pelagic sharks examined exhibit a more concentric pattern of increasing cell density, culminating in a central area centralis of higher cell density located close to the optic nerve head. The exception is the shark Alopias superciliosus, which possesses a ventral horizontal streak. Variation in retinal ganglion cell topography appears to be related to the visual demands of different habitats and lifestyles, as well as the positioning of the eyes in the head. The upper limits of spatial resolving power were calculated for all 10 species, using peak ganglion cell densities and estimates of focal length taken from cryo-sectioned eyes in combination with information from the literature. Spatial resolving power ranged from 2.02 to 10.56 cycles deg(-1), which is in accordance with previous studies. Species with a lower spatial resolving power tend to be benthic and/or coastal species that feed on benthic invertebrates and fishes. Active, benthopelagic and pelagic species from more oceanic habitats which feed on larger, more active prey, possess a higher resolving power. Additionally, ganglion cells in a juvenile of C. punctatum, were retrogradely-labeled from the optic nerve with biotinylated dextran amine (BDA). A comparison of the BDA- labeled material and tissue stained for Nissl substance indicates that 76% of the cells in the retinal ganglion cell and inner plexiform layers of the central retina in this species are non-ganglion cells.