Cetartiodactyls include terrestrial and marine species, all generally endowed with a comparatively lateral position of their eyes and a relatively limited binocular field of vision. To this day, our understanding of the visual system in mammals beyond the few studied animal models remains limited. In the present study, we examined the primary visual cortex of Cetartiodactyls that live on land (sheep, Père David deer, giraffe); in the sea (bottlenose dolphin, Risso’s dolphin, long-finned pilot whale, Cuvier’s beaked whale, sperm whale and fn whale); or in an amphibious environment (hippopotamus). We also sampled and studied the visual cortex of the horse (a closely related perissodactyl) and two primates (chimpanzee and pig-tailed macaque) for comparison. Our histochemical and immunohistochemical results indicate that the visual cortex of Cetartiodactyls is characterized by a peculiar organization, structure, and complexity of the cortical column. We noted a general lesser lamination compared to simians, with diminished density, and an apparent simplification of the intra- and extra-columnar
connections. The presence and distribution of calcium-binding proteins indicated a notable absence of parvalbumin in water species and a strong reduction of layer 4, usually enlarged in the striated cortex, seemingly replaced by a more diffuse distribution in neighboring layers. Consequently, thalamo-cortical inputs are apparently directed to the higher layers of the column. Computer analyses and statistical evaluation of the data confirmed the results and indicated a substantial correlation between eye placement and cortical structure, with a markedly segregated pattern in cetaceans compared to other mammals. Furthermore, cetacean species showed several types of cortical lamination which may reflect differences in function, possibly related to depth of foraging and consequent progressive disappearance of light, and increased importance of echolocation.