Photoacoustic tomography (PAT) and ultrasonography (US) of biological tissues usually rely on transducer arrays for the detection of ultrasound. Obtaining the best sensitivity requires a physical contact with the tissue using an intermediate coupling fluid (water or gel). This type of contact is a major drawback for several applications such as neurosurgery. Laser-ultrasonics is an established optical technique for the non-contact generation and detection of ultrasound in industrial materials. In this paper, the non-contact detection scheme used in laser-ultrasonics is adapted to allow probing of ultrasound in biological tissues while remaining below laser exposure safety limits. Both non-contact PAT (NCPAT) and non-contact US (NCUS) are demonstrated experimentally using a single-frequency detection laser emitting suitably shaped pulses and a confocal Fabry-Perot interferometer. It is shown that an acceptable sensitivity is obtained while remaining below the maximum permissible exposure (MPE) of biological tissues. Results obtained ex vivo with a calf brain specimen show that sub-mm endogenous and exogenous inclusions can be detected at depths exceeding 1 cm. When fully developed, the technique could be a unique diagnostic tool in neurosurgery providing deep imaging of blood vessels, blood clots and blood oxygenation.© (2012) COPYRIGHT Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE). Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.