Scientists hope a research project will help protect two little known species of dolphin that live in north Queensland waters.

The snubfin dolphin was only recently discovered to inhabit Australia's northern waters and very little is known about its population, size and distribution.

A James Cook University research team is making an expedition starting off Cardwell in the state's north, collecting data about the snubfin and Indo-Pacific humpback species.

Dr Isabel Beasley says it is hoped the research will push the case for the snubfin dolphin to be listed as an endangered species.

"It's really difficult to develop state and Commonwealth legislation to protect these species because of a lack of information," she said.

"We'll really be able to nail down where these dolphins are occurring, what are the key areas and the potential threats in these areas."

The team will be working alongside traditional owners and Indigenous sea ranger groups.

The project will be completed by 2015.